26 Mar The Bell-Curve Cage: Something must break.
I keep going on about this but at some point, something’s going to break.
Ever since Michael Gove and Ofqual – more or less independently – decided, reasonably and sensibly, to bring an end to grade inflation around 2010, taking effect from 2013, we’ve been on a collision course with our embedded, natural and reasonable desire for continual improvement.
Here’s the thing. If you’re using the same mechanisms – ie our national examinations – to measure both improvement and standards, you’re stuffed. You can’t keep a firm hold on standards with a bell curve cage and, simultaneously proclaim improvement. You can’t maintain a zero sum and also expect all students and schools to show improvement. There’s no conspiracy of low expectations here; it’s just literally impossible.
Read this post: Assessment, standards and the bell curve if you want to explore the notion that standards are ever absolute. They’re not.
Read this post – Nicky Morgan vs the Bell Curve – if you want to see how wound up someone can get by the political abuse of the concept of ‘average’.
Read this post about the zero-sum era we’re now in if you want to explore whether that’s really what’s happening. It is.
The problem is that we keep pretending this isn’t our reality. Grades 1-3 are not Good GCSEs even though ~30% must get those grades in our system. I’m tired of the limited language of average/below average when it is explicitly accompanied by damning judgements for all those who fall below the average line. The massive pressure to improve is in a head-on car-crash collision with the pressure to keep standards tight; everyone MUST improve but not everyone is allowed to.
All over the middle ground, the territory of grades 3-5, the C/D borderline, random forces will make or break life chances – alongside the profiles of schools where those students dominate.
Something must break. And it will. It’s already started.