From the Headmaster – Mr Andrew Hawkins
Our TSS Director of Sport, Mr Bryan Hain, recently gifted me a book to read titled The End of Average by Todd Rose. Mr Hain referred to the book at a Senior School Assembly this year and his presentation immediately got my attention. Fundamentally, the book talks about our obsession with averages in the education system. To set the scene for the challenges of measuring averages, the first chapter talks about the issues the American military faced in the early 1900s with fighter pilots – the problem was that they kept on crashing a newly designed, and very expensive, aircraft in training drills.
After hours of researching, the scientists discovered the designers of the aircraft took the measurements of over 1400 military personnel and designed a seat to fit the ‘average’ soldier. The average measurements came from a combination of measurements of feet size, lower leg length, upper leg length, core length, shoulder width, arm length, hand size, and neck/head measurements. The scientists eventually worked out that not one of the 1400 soldiers measured actually fit the ‘average’ in three or more of the measurement categories. They soon discovered the issue was in the design of the aircraft, not the driver of the aircraft.
This discovery revolutionised not only military aircraft design but even the car seats that you and I change every time we sit in a car seat. Adjustable seat heights, back support, and headrests were soon introduced to aircraft and cars, and the number of accidents diminished. The military aircraft seat analogy then sets the scene for the challenges around the limitations to the ‘fascination’ we have with averages in education systems worldwide.
Our new assessment system in Queensland which now sees students issued with an Australian Tertiary Admission Rank is a system designed to give a much fairer indication of Year 12 students’ ability in the suite of subjects they have chosen. Our previous system simply averaged out the ability of a school’s performance on a rigorous two-day exam and compared the ‘average’ of every school in Queensland. The new system allows for each student to get a result based on their performance and ability and not an ‘average’.
I have heard many opinions this week in the media around NAPLAN results for 2022. This test is designed purely around averages and how to compare students against that ‘average’ in numeracy and literacy. There is a great deal of discussion around its effectiveness with many education stakeholders calling for the entire NAPLAN testing process to be abolished. The fact that one in five Australian students didn’t sit the test in 2022 gives a clear indication of parents’ support of the test across the country. One in five parents, in collaboration with their child’s school, are withdrawing their children altogether and the withdrawals are mainly due to the exam’s lack of ability to highlight intelligence in areas other than literacy and numeracy.
I am proud that TSS has always supported NAPLAN and every year we have had an attendance rate of over 99%. I have included one tweet on the ACARA site highlighting the trends of the averages from 2021 to 2022. This data follows our trends at TSS in that Year 3 and 5 results have been strong, but we see improvement plateau in Year 7 and often head on a downward trend in Year 9 for boys across Australia.
We have worked hard at both Prep and Senior this year to prepare students in areas of literacy and numeracy for NAPLAN in 2023. The NAPLAN testing period will be in mid-March which is much earlier in the year than in previous years. Our data has always shown that the longer a student is here at TSS, the better they tend to do academically, particularly in external testing. The challenge for us in 2023 is to prepare those students new to TSS in 2023 for Years 3, 5, 7, and 9 NAPLAN. One such program is the Arrive to Thrive at TSS currently being held in the evenings with our Year 7 staff.
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