The Average Student Doesn’t Exist

Temperatures Around the World – A Good Use of Average

Comparing average temperatures from around the world is useful if you want to compare this single attribute. It works because you are comparing a single entity across a large sample size.

The Average Student is a Myth

However, if you want to compare a particular student’s achievement against an average student, this is NOT very useful. Most importantly because of the complexity that makes up success. And because of this complexity, I argue that there really is no ‘average student’. Take a look at the chart to the right as an example. Comparing a single measure like knowledge or reading doesn’t take into account the entire learning profile. Each student is unique — each one with strengths and challenges.

The complex world of learning can’t be quantified by a simple average. There are think-tanks and critics who are quick to jump to a single measure to find a story that says we’re not succeeding or using a measure to compare one school against another. They use singular events like a one time FSA score or a provincial exam grade to compare students or schools against each other to make an argument about our educational demise.

Averages just don’t work that way.

We’re Doing Some Great Things in Public Education

I speak and write a LOT about the need for change in public education — necessary change because we haven’t yet met every child’s potential. That might be an unreachable target, but it doesn’t mean we should give up trying to be better than we are today.

I’m not naive to the notion that my desire for change might leave a perception of ‘doom and gloom’ about public education — that we aren’t doing anything correct at the moment.

And that’s simply not true.

I am proud of many things that we are currently doing in our schools, primarily due to the efforts from our teachers and administrators — true innovators in our system.

Will Your Parachute Open Every Time?

Teaching Less (2)

Wait a minute!  Teaching less is a good thing?

Let’s be careful in what is actually being said here.  Teaching is an EXCELLENT thing to do.  If we didn’t teach adequately our students would not learn sufficiently.  But, what Grant Wiggins is trying to stress is that FEEDBACK is one of the strongest correlates to student success.  And not just a letter grade or percentage, but critical feedback that helps the student learn from their mistakes so that they can focus on personal improvement.

Nobody gets better by just seeing a ‘B’ on their paper, lab report or report card.  What makes us improve our learning is the opportunity to understand what we didn’t fully succeed at, be given an opportunity to refine our learning and perhaps demonstrate our mastery of the topic again.

I remember sitting in a meeting where we were talking about feedback, student mastery of material and grading.  The speaker asked us to step out from our ‘classroom comfort zone’ and think about … parachute packing.

OK.  Why not?

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