The End Of Average

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Examination Room Tables


Ross Morrison McGill founded @TeacherToolkit in 2010, and today, he is one of the 'most followed educators'on social media in the world. In 2015, he was nominated as one of the '500 Most Influential People in Britain' by The Sunday Times as a result of...
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Is our current examination system suitable for all students?

Do we want an education system that compels each student to be like everyone else, only better, or do we want a system that compels each student to make their own choices? This is one of the hundreds of questions Todd Rose asks in The End of Average.

We know people learn and develop in distinctive ways, yet these unique patterns of behaviors are lost in our schools (particularly at ages 10 and 16) which have been designed around the mythical “average person.” This average-size-fits-all model ignores our differences and fails at recognising talent. Rose thinks it’s time to change it, and so do I.

Are You Brave Enough?

So, if you are a school leader, do you REALLY believe our current examination system suitable for all students? I don’t think it is and having discovered The End of Average, a book that articulates what many of us are thinking what is wrong with our current schooling system. We are still operating in a 19th century model in which our schools barely have the capacity. A factory model that does not support individuality.

This is a book I think all school leaders must read; senior teachers who are brave enough to flip the curriculum pathway and steer a system away from end of summative assessments towards credentials or a series of units that are accumulated to lead to the next stepping stone. Rose highlights the problem with our assumption that metrics is reliable when comparing one person – or their test score – to an average; like GPAs, personality test results, and performance review ratings which reveal something meaningful about our potential. That this method is so ingrained in our consciousness that we don’t even question it. That assumption, says Harvard’s Todd Rose, is spectacularly – and scientifically – wrong.

The Same, Only Better

Our education system was designed over a century ago by Edward Throndike, constructed to rank students by their performance in a standardised curriculum – for everyone. Those with the best grades go to the best colleges and then go on to get the best jobs. It’s like a look-a-like competition that is one-dimensional, designed towards students doing the same thing, an average student does, only aim for above the average and you’ll be fine.

Today, we now widen the social mobility gap by charging students £30,000+ for a 3-year degree once they achieve these entry grades. What hope is their for children from disadvantaged families who a) may not be able to raise such sums of money for further education or b) fall foul of a standaridised curriculum that isn’t designed to suit their needs – or abilities.

As an UK educator, this book has significantly affirmed and shaped my thoughts on the current problems we have in our education system; thousands of children who view themselves as a failure simple because the system is not sophisticated enough to evaluate their individual success.

The current problem with our schools is:

  1. External pressures force students to conform and follow a set curriculum that everyone else is doing, only perform better to move on to the next stage.
  2. Once in college, students have to sit the same courses and complete the course in the same amount of time, to be ranked against one another – all at a huge financial cost – with some families mortgaging their homes to play the game of averages.
  3. The process is setup to ignore the individuality of every student. It’s all about averagism and selection.

Alternative Solutions

Rose offers the following blueprint for schools:

  1. Grant credentials not diplomas and degrees.
  2. Replace grades with competency.
  3. Allow students to determine their pathway of study.

Why not grab a copy and read the following blogs below where I’ve discussed assessment, curriculum and teacher appraisal in more depth – inspired by The End of Average.

It’s a great book – with many examples cited of where an alternative is working in business and in education, including appraisal. If only all of our politicians could read it.

  1. Challenging The Average: Rose highlights the work of American psychologist, Edward Thorndike who single-handedly defined education as we know it. His definition of the purpose of schools and education was to sort students by talent; to predict how a student will perform.
  2. We Need To Pop The Differentiation Bubble: meeting the needs of all students in a single lesson is a myth.
  3. Dear Santa: any system designed around the average person is doomed to fail. Why teacher appraisal needs to be binned!

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