You are here

Blog: Thursday, October 17th, 2019

Is there anything Average in Education?

By Linda Pollastretti


In schools we often toss around the word “average” but what does that really mean?  Todd Rose in his book The End of Average argues that there should be nothing “average” about education, learning, and students. In fact, is there any such thing as the average male, female, or student.  No.  The concept of average does not exist.  The medical profession invented the average female based on compiling the measurements of women across America including height, weight, chest, length of arms, legs, etc.  But to their surprise, finding an actual woman who met the average measurements was challenging.  In fact, there was no woman, in 1945, that met every single average measurement.  So the “average” did not exist.  We all have something about us that makes each of us unique.  Yet in education, we have taught the concept of “average.”  Think about it, many of us have had children yet they all began to walk, talk, toilet train, read, ride a bike at different times.  Yet, we hold that the average child should be toilet trained by 18 months when we know some children are ready earlier and others later.  What does this mean to education?

The education system we, adults, experienced was designed around the concept of average within a system.  We entered the system in our fifth birth year and exited in our 18th birth year.  While within the system the teacher taught to the average student (for example, all grade 3s can read Dick and Jane stories) and ensured that each student had the same amount of knowledge and experience with a standardized system.  The system was designed to sort each student into a future job and life path while creating a hierarchy (rank) within the greater society.   Thanks to Frederick Taylor who developed systems within the workforce that eliminated inefficiencies and Thorndike who applied standardizing systems and Quetelet’s average concept to education we experienced an educational movement similar to the factory model.  We entered into the system, were given knowledge, tested, and sorted based on what the average could or could not do.  University entrance exams are currently an example of all three principles applied to sort students.

Over that past six years, the education system in BC has gone through and is still going through a period of change.  Change designed to address the misused concepts of average, ranking, and sorting.  We know that each individual is unique, we know that people are consistent with a context (behavior is based on the situation) and that there is no single path to reach any one outcome. How this applied to school?  Some learners are faster than others and therefore giving each the same test and the same amount of time does not allow for individuality.  A test that does allow for variation in time, place, speed, and situation is a driver’s test.  To allow for personalization and individuality, the Ministry of Education has moved to a competency based system – it is no longer about the grade (which is one dimensional) and doesn’t reflect the entire whole student. Students are able to acquire competencies anytime they wish and they should align with the students’ individualness.   Education or courses are no longer one size fits all but rather are being redesigned to allow for the jaggedness of each individual based on adaptation in pace, ability, interests, relevance and more vs the old system of grouping students based on age, or ranking based on grade. 

Students are encouraged to take their own path through education and apply self-determination to their educational journey.  The School of Business and School of Science are excellent examples of allowing for the individual voice within an educational trajectory.  Important for parents is the realization that the school system your child is working within is not the same as the system you encountered.  We encourage the principles of jaggedness, individuality, and pathways in a redesigned system which uses the know, do, understand model based on big ideas, curricular and core competencies. 

Many thanks to change-agents like Todd Rose, End of Average, or Ted Dintersmith, Most Likely to Succeed, who challenged the status quo and asked the question – why? And more importantly, to the teachers, educational assistants, support workers, administrator and more who have the courage to redesign a system, classroom or school around the individual rather than the average student (which we know doesn't exist). 


Linda Pollastretti

Principal, Rick Hansen Secondary