The Bean Counters

jelly beans, navy beans, jar, crockpot, dante’s levels of hell/purgatory/paradise, 2015

I placed a jar in the School of Education and Art Department of Art at Metropolitan State University of Denver, as a self-appointed artist-in-residence for the psychometricians. From March until May, students and staff assessed themselves by adding beans to my jar: a jelly bean for an accomplishment, a navy bean for partially proficiency, and no bean for unsatisfactory. My hope was to get us all out of Dante’s inferno and possibly rise to the utmost circle of paradise. However, we only got half way through purgatory.


I made data soup from the contents of the jar and some participants revisited the data at the art opening.


During this process, bean jar participants asked me the following questions: What am I assessing? Why am I assessing? What are you going to do with the data? How do I know what proficient means? How do I know what unsatisfactory means?  Does the data matter? Can I cheat? Can averaging collective, divergent scores produce meaningful information? Isn’t this going to make bad soup? Is it cheating to spice up the soup with ingredients (data) found outside of the testing window? Can good scores cancel out bad scores, like a magic trick? What would John Dewey do?

I hope the psychometricians in American education circles are asking themselves these same questions.

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