Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Tips for Readers of Research

Academic journal article Phi Delta Kappan

Tips for Readers of Research

Article excerpt

When you look at data, be sure you know whether you are, looking at ranks or scores, because the two statistics from the same study can yield entirely different impressions of what the study shows. For example, American schools have been taking a beating in some studies - especially international comparisons - because the data have been reported in ranks. Had they been reported in scores, the results would have looked quite different.

The problem with ranks is that ranking obscures actual performance. Whenever people, schools, states, or countries are ranked, someone always places last. When the 100-meter dash is run at the Olympics, someone finishes last. But his friends probably don't call him "Pokey." Some students who take the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) rank in the bottom quartile. It seems reasonable to assume, though, that students taking the GRE, along with those taking the medical and law school admissions tests, are among the academically best and brightest in the nation. These students are at the "bottom" of the top of their class. From ranks alone, you can tell nothing about performance.

Americans pay more attention to ranks than do people in many countries, I suspect, because we are, more than people from other countries, obsessed with who is number one and where we stand in relation to the top. This nation often suffers a collective (though temporary) psychosis on January 2 if the bowl games of January I have not conclusively resolved which college football team is number one in the nation. But it is good to look away from ranks to performance. Sticking with sports but shifting to basketball, we can see that the selection committee for the National Collegiate Athletic Association attempts to take account of both rank and performance in selecting the 64 teams for the NCAA tournament. …

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