September 13, 2019

Bog Standard

Naplan results have arrived at homes in school bags and letterboxes. More than one parent I know has had a crying little person in their arms because the ‘dot’ in a column told them they didn’t measure up.

Albert Einstein, who performed rather terribly on standardised tests and found himself working as an office clerk, famously said, “Everyone is genius but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

At the Byron Writers Festival earlier this year, Gabbie Stroud author of ‘Teacher’ gave the history of Naplan as an assault on teaching and learning by administrators who had never known what it was like to teach. It was a political effort to place blame and provide more hoops for the front line teachers with implications that removed individualisation and the empowerment of front line educators to ‘care’. Essentially, she described how the government took teachers down to win a battle that didn’t need to be fought. 

Todd Rose is a faculty member at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education and author of the incredible book ‘SquarePeg’. He scientifically challenges the beliefs that underlie standardised tests – a belief that we can determine an individual’s achievement by statistical inference and averages. 

Which is almost every other field, we are beginning to realise that we cannot. There is an overall shift from the ‘average’ to the ‘individual’, and ironically by embracing variability the sum, the whole, has been lifted as a result.

In medicine, there has been a return to diagnosis based on the individual’s unique biology in an emergent field known as Precision Medicine. Defined as, ‘medical care designed to optimize efficiency or therapeutic benefit for particular groups of patients, especially by using genetic or molecular profiling’, precision medicine is about discarding averages in lieu of personalisation for better results. 

In finance, we see a strong trend towards Precision Investing which is where funds take a precision approach towards factors such as risk, return, capital and tax. 

Yet, the thing we all care most about is our kids and we settle for this flaw of averages. 

To the little, creative, open, enthusiastic young people who have been measured and found lacking – please understand that it is the test, the methodology, the administration and the regime that is lacking – not you. 

It is an appreciation for the compassion and empathy that teachers provide as creators of our future generation that is lacking – not you. 

It is an understanding of complexity, variability, individuality and diversity that is lacking – not you. 

Our family has long referred to this redundant and unhelpful instrument as ‘Napalm’ instead of Naplan – because it can be every bit as lethal. Our kids and teachers, and their wellbeing is more valuable, more important and more relevant than any ‘average’.