Can Everybody Succeed?

What’s to stop me from getting 100%?

Has anyone ever got 100% on all 140 Assessments?

These are real questions asked by students who have begun to experience a learning environment in which:

  • The progress mark is high (80%) and
  • There is no limit to the number of attempts students can make in order to achieve the target.

Think about the significance of these questions. The first is based on the expectation that results will be moderated. If everybody succeeds, so the rationale goes, the exam must have been too easy, since the very purpose of the assessment is to differentiate between different levels of success. So, to meet this purported goal, we justify the manipulation of individual results to reflect a distribution which we regard as essential – the Gaussian Curve.

But what if we asked the question:  What bounding conditions are we applying in our assessment process, and how meaningful or realistic are these in the long run. We could list a few:

  • We apply a time limitation. Second Industrial Revolution thinking prevails. We have a certain number of students to ‘process’, so we simply can’t allow some students to take longer, otherwise our schedule will become unmanageable.
  • We have a fixed (not variable) Evaluation model. Everybody writes the same exam, not a range of equivalent exams. Why? Because we need a standardised system of Evaluation, and the humans who do the marking need to be using the same template.

So the traditional model, by applying time pressure and providing no space for reprocessing an exam, ensures that we get our predicted ‘spread’ of achievement levels. But we are selecting top achievers largely on the basis of processing speed and capacity for rapid recall?

Do these selected characteristics necessarily predict success in the long run? “No”, says Angela Duckworth, best-selling author of “Grit”. She defines grit as a combination of Passion and Perseverance. In her experience, grit is a powerful predictor of success in life, far more so than scores based on the traditional model described above.

In our experience over the past decade using a software platform that allows students to achieve their goals in their own time, we have seen ‘Everybody succeeding’ in the sense that they all reach a high standard. However, hidden behind that façade is another truth that could offer a clue to our future understanding of the learning process: Effort. In any one class we can see how many attempts each student made to achieve their target on each of the 140 assessments. There we see a different type of curve – and it’s also Gaussian. Only now it is showing the range of effort each student contributed to achieve their goal. On the one extreme are the Quick Achievers who would average about 1.5 to 2 attempts per Assessment. On the other extreme, the Persevering Achievers are up in the region of 6 to 10 Attempts. For these students their achievement came at the cost of 140 x 10 = 1400 Assessments.

Interesting? I find it riveting! What kept this latter group going? How did this experience strengthen their self-belief? Did they recalibrate their view of failure? These and many others we hope to explore in the future.