Bell curve, schmell curve

I can’t believe it but it’s true – we really do still use the bell curve to manage assessment at schools and universities. OK – I do get the logic about rigour and standards, but it is a dumb, old world logic in my view. My thing about bell-curving assessment is this – 1 standard deviation (1 sigma – 68% of the population) are deemed ‘average’ so only 16% can possibly be A’s… and isn’t it mainly the same driven few who obsess for the A’s? – so everyone else stops trying or believes they can’t do well… and any time there are more than 16% A’s they get ‘curved down’ to the 16% ‘cos the ‘assessor must obviously have made it too easy or got soft’.
bell curve
So it doesn’t matter how brilliantly you teach, or how motivated you make people to learn – only 16% of your students can be A’s. And because you know that it’s a zero-sum game (ie someone else can only win if you lose) you don’t share info and help other learners…
Amazingly (not) when there’s no bell curves and everyone knows that if they do good enough work, they can get A’s, they work harder – and lots do get A’s… and it incentives people to help each other as ‘to teach is to learn twice’ and we can all do better if we help each other.
Ergo the whole darn way everything is set up in most of academia is nuts as it stops people from helping each other learn, stops sharing of info, makes people work stupider and undermines people’s confidence .. hey please, make my day and prove my rant wrong…. i’d love it to be.. :-).    (Here’s the REAL way a bell-curve approach to grading gets done).

Let’s do it the Ben Zander way – think of the art of possibility and help everyone rise to an A. In fact give yourself an A…….

“Weighing a pig doesn’t make it fatter” – thanks to Eddie Obeng for that.

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