The world can be a bleak place. Of course, there are always those, in Ian McDonald’s wonderful phrase, who “live lives of sweet and seamless gold”; for whom privilege and a sense of entitlement irrespective of merit smooth the way. But for the rest of us there are problems.
One core source of problems comes from our earliest years and what we come to believe about ourselves and others. The belief becomes so entrenched into our psyche it manifests as a reflex behaviour or action.
I refer to the ubiquitous social conditioning of comparison. God bless them! – but our parents started it: my behaviour is not as good as Johnny’s next door, and he is a ‘good’ boy (or girl).
And this goes on into school years. Not only is our behaviour being compared with others, but so too is our performance: be that in mathematics or sport. In all endeavours we find it is rarely good enough to be second – second is still to be a loser.
This is normative assessment: comparing ourselves with others.
Alongside normative assessment goes another – more insidious because seemingly more fair – type of assessment. Do we measure up? Do we meet the standard?
The standard is, for example, you never tell lies. Sounds good? Yeh, but my family life is entirely dysfunctional – oops, but can’t tell the truth about that, can I? Can we? Strict moral codes that selectively apply.
And on to education. Re-design examinations and assessment so that a ‘standard’ rather than a comparison is the basis of the result output. National Curriculum in Science level 5, which means you understand … a, b, c, d, e and blather to infinity. But do they understand – in a real sense of that word? – and do they love science?
This is criteria-referenced assessment – comparing ourselves with an external standard.
Both normative and criteria led assessments seem to leave everybody in the system disgruntled, dissatisfied, and generally uneasy: there is always somebody better and the standard is always arbitrary – a line is drawn, but whose line? Plus, we all go round internally judging ourselves as unworthy; there has to be a better way – and there is.
The third kind of assessment is called ipsative and this I like: ipsative assessment is where you compare yourself with … yourself! Yes, what is the best I can do? Am I achieving all I am capable of? What do I need to do to motivate myself that bit more in order to gain that bit more success?
So, parents everywhere, stop beating up your children with comments and comparisons of your child with all the others. Instead, identify his or her strengths and cultivate them.
And, employers everywhere, stop being obsessed with competencies and standards that fail to inspire. Instead, focus on personal development and the individual, Ask, what can this acorn become if nurtured properly?
You see, that what normative and criteria referencing have in common is very simple: we can see ‘them’. We can see how other children are different from our own – an easy point of comparison. And we can see – usually in writing – what the standard is. But we cannot ‘see’ – easily – what the child
or the adult may become. As Christ himself said: “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment”. Look beyond appearances.
Thus it is that the obsession with normative and criteria referenced assessment is often done purely because it is easy – it is lazy too. Let’s end this slackness; let’s make an effort, starting with our self, to ask ourselves what is the best possible me I could possibly be?