Monday, June 1, 2015

Cheating on Standardized Tests and Systems Arch Types

Peter Senge introduced the mainstream business community to system archetypes in his book, The Fifth Discipline. These arch types describe patterns of behavior of a system. Systems that we take for granted can be expressed by circles of causality. By understanding the system arch types, we can understand the system at a deeper level and identify leverage points which enables efficient changes in a system.

Let’s consider a recent example. The map below is a Systems Dynamic Model that explains the reinforcing loops that encourage cheating by teachers on standardized tests. Recently, several teachers were sentenced to prison terms over a cheating scandal in Atlanta, Georgia. By using over-justification schemes, we have turned honest people into criminals.


Dr. W. Edwards Deming would be livid. When people are put into impossible situations with goals and targets that cannot be met under the current system, you get unintended consequences. We have seen it with nurses falsifying reports to achieve targets and teachers in Atlanta changing test scores. Charles Goodhart's law sheds light on this problem; "When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure."  

It would be interesting to see a model for health care with the advent of P4P (pay for performance) schemes. Fraud headlines will be coming soon. Here we will have “goals gone wild” turning professionals into crooks.