Our Opinion: A test for policymakers in education, government

Performance-based evaluations have merit.

A difficulty arises in some disciplines, including education, where variables may skew performance.

An emphasis on performance-based education was at the heart of Gov. Jay Nixon’s message last week to educators and lawmakers at a Higher Education Summit.

“Our current funding approach is disconnected from statewide goals and needs,” the governor said. “It doesn’t give policymakers, or the public, confidence that the money we invest in public higher education is being used in the most effective way possible.”

We agree.

The critical question is how do we create performance-based methodology that is a fair and accurate barometer of education.

Education, at a minimum, involves two components — teaching and learning. Because students are unique, any two students exposed to the same teacher and lessons may learn differing amounts at different speeds.

Regarding higher education, a reasonable assumption would be that elementary and secondary education would narrow differences and put students on a relatively equal playing field at the college and university level.

That assumption would be incorrect.

Missouri’s 13 public four-year colleges and universities apply four criteria to incoming students. The criteria are highly selective, selective, moderately selective or open enrollment.

Open enrollment schools — including Lincoln University here — may admit any incoming students who have high school diploma or its equivalent.

LU President Carolyn Mahoney — as well as a number of other educators and state officials, including the governor — all agree open enrollment is a valuable component of education.

Mahoney fears, justifiably, that performance-based evaluations may discourage open enrollment policies. “The easiest way to graduate more students,” she observed, “is to not accept students who are not very prepared.”

We share those concerns.

Developing performance-based evaluations that do not discourage educational challenges is a laudable goal. Realistically, however, it will be a test for policymakers in both education and government.

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