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Can we say which woman is smarter?

Excerpted from The End of Average: How We Succeed in a World That Values Sameness by Todd Rose. Copyright ©2016 by L. Todd Rose, published by HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

During the Age of Average we have defined opportunity as “equal access” — as ensuring that everyone has access to the same experiences. Of course, equal access is undoubtedly preferable to older alternatives such as nepotism, cronyism, racism, misogyny, and classism. And there is no doubt that equal access has improved society immensely, creating a society that is more tolerant, respectful, and inclusive. But equal access suffers from one major shortcoming: it aims to maximize individual opportunity on average by ensuring that everyone has access to the same standardized system, whether or not that system actually fits.

If it doesn't fit, our performance will always be artificially impaired. But if we do get a good fit with our environment — whether that environment is a cockpit, a classroom, or a corner office — we will have the opportunity to show what we are truly capable of. This means that if we want equal opportunity for everyone, if we want a society where each one of us has the same chance to live up to our full potential, then we must create professional, educational, and social institutions that are responsive to individuality.

We know there is no such thing as an average person, and we can see the flaw in the equal access approach to opportunity: if there is no such thing as an average person, then there can never be equal opportunity on average. Only equal fit creates equal opportunity. Equal fit is an ideal that can bring our institutions into closer alignment with our values, and give each of us the chance to become the very best we can be, and to pursue a life of excellence, as we define it.

If we are looking for the institution where implementing equal fit would have the biggest immediate impact on opportunity, the place to start is clear: public education. Despite the fact that “personalized learning” is the biggest buzzword in education today, and despite efforts of many organizations seeking change in the system, almost everything in traditional educational systems remains designed to ensure students receive the same exact standardized experience. Textbooks are designed to be “age appropriate,” which means they are targeted toward the average student of a given age. Many assessments (including many so-called high-stakes tests) are age or grade normed, which means they are based around the average student of that age or grade. We continue to enforce a curriculum that defines not only what students learn, but also how, when, at what pace, and in what order they learn it. In other words, whatever else we may say, traditional public education systems violate the principles of individuality.

Although it would not be easy, it’s not difficult to imagine how to introduce equal fit into education. For starters, we can require that textbooks be designed “to the edges” rather than to the average; we can require that curricular materials be adaptive to individual ability and pacing rather than fixed based on grade or age; we can require that educational assessments be built to measure individual learning and development rather than simply ranking students against one another. Finally, we can encourage local experimentation and sharing of successes and failures to accelerate discovery and adoption of cost-effective, scalable ways to implement student-driven, self-paced, multipathway educational experience.

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Lea's Learning Analytics Blog

Learning analytics, educational data mining, formative assessment - all recent buzz words in educational research. In principle, the idea is to find theoretical frameworks, models, procedures, and smart tools to collect, aggregate, analyze, reason on and visualize large scale educational data. LEA’s BOX is a research and development project funded by the European Commission. The project aims at (a) making educational assessment and appraisal more goal-oriented, proactive, and beneficial for students, and (b) at enabling formative support of teachers and other educational stakeholders on a solid basis of a wide range of information about learners. That means, LEA’s BOX is a learning analytics toolbox that is intended to enable educators to perform competence-centered, multi-source learning analytics. More info at http://www.leas-box.eu!


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