The “Bell Curve” has dominated how we think about learning and assessment and significantly limits the potential of our children. We know all kids can do well when we personalize learning by providing instruction in a way that works for them – and provide them with the opportunity to demonstrate what they know in a way that leverages their strengths. Some say this is the “give everyone a trophy” model of education. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. This is real-world learning and assessment. It is what adults do every day, in all professions. When a professional needs to learn about a new idea or concept or acquire a new skill, they have the freedom to go about it in a way that works best for them. It could be a tutorial video, an in-person training program, or reading material on a relevant topic. They then demonstrate that knowledge in a way that leverages their strengths. Professionals share their ideas and expertise by giving a presentation at a board meeting, designing in a CAD program, or installing a new heating system in someone’s home. It doesn’t matter which way the someone presents new information or skills. The job gets done, and the employee demonstrates what they have learned.
The burden of the bell curve has prevented us from supporting all young people and creating the conditions for them to succeed by stipulating that only a certain number of students can do well and that there always has to be a percentage of students who don’t succeed.
Below, you will find two stories that together, create a powerful picture of how educators are updating their practices by putting an end to the bell curve and advancing personalized learning and meaningful performance-based tests.
The Bell Curve is Nonsense illustrates how the things we have assumed to be true have resulted in us distorting, and limiting human potential. The Power of Performance Assessments shows what incorporating performance tests in Oakland Unified School District classrooms looks like and sounds like when done well. You’ll hear from students, teachers, and administrators who are working together to find ways to advance more rigorous and relevant learning.
New Hampshire public education caught onto this years ago. The Granite State has been nationally recognized as a pioneer in personalized learning and more recently, in meaningful performance tests that are replacing one-size-fits-all assessments through the PACE pilot program. To learn more about what’s happening here and around the country, take a look at the links below.
The Bell Curve is Nonsense
The Power of Performance Assessments
- Performance-based assessment in New Hampshire
- To learn more about Oakland’s Graduate Capstone Project, read Oakland’s Graduate Capstone Project: It’s About Equity by Young Whan Choi, OUSD’s manager of performance assessments, and explore a video gallery featuring the reflections of Oakland students, teachers, and school and district administrators.
- Oakland Unified is part of the California Performance Assessment Collaborative, which brings together educators, policymakers, and researchers to study and advance the use of authentic approaches to assessment.