Episode #1

Tom Bentley

Change: Single Number Assessment

Can your educational ability and achievement be reduced to just one number? Why do we, as a society, place so much weight and importance to something as simplistic and limiting as a number to convey status and achievement?

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Guest Profile

Tom Bentley

Executive Director for Policy and Impact / Principal Adviser to the Vice Chancellor at RMIT University
Location: Melbourne Australia

WHY TOM? We chose Tom to be our first visionary because of his in-depth experience with, and interest in, the education sector, alongside his ability to think outside of the status quo. Tom’s insight and ideas are always detailed, thought-provoking and powerful.

ABOUT TOM: Author, policy analyst, principal adviser, change-maker and thought leader. Tom works with people and institutions around the world on innovation and learning to renew education, economic and community life. With an impressive career including Executive Director for Policy and Cabinet for the Premier of Victoria and Deputy Chief of Staff for PM Julia Gillard, Tom has been fundamental in working on issues such as school curriculum reform, creativity, social inclusion and area-based regeneration.

Video transcript

“The one big thing that I would change in education is the assumption that educational ability or achievement can be reduced to 1 number.

This assumption is incredibly powerful and pervasive. We can see this playing out for individual students who think they have to get a NAPLAN score or an ATAR score, we can also see it for schools and institutions, as well as for people in the wider population.

The reason I would change it isn’t because I don’t think that numbers don’t matter, or that scientific measurement isn’t important – data is a fundamental part of education for improving our learning outcomes. It’s just that the reduction to a single number is a fallacy – it’s an assumption that was made during the last century, it was part of the assumption about a particular kind of 20th century approach to organisation and to society. It’s the assumption that gave way to IQ testing – which in itself is an aggregate set of guesses about how to bring together different forms of ability.

The reason that it is damaging, the reason that it is limiting, is because it has such a constraining effect on people’s own understanding of what they can achieve.

It also reduces educational endeavour – the billions of dollars that we pour into education, the huge organisations that we build to try and provide educational services, it reduces that endeavour to an endless competition, which in itself is a form of reductionism.

Education is not the effort to get to 97.2%, or to improve our rankings by another 7 places compared with institutions in another part of the world that we never have anything to do with.

Education is actually about uncovering the deeper purposes, and then applying everything that we can learn to those purposes, and empowering and equipping more people to be able to pursue those goals for themselves, and then do it in an active community of lifelong learners.

We’ve got to learn to use educational data differently, we’ve got to use multiple sources of input, and recognise multiple forms of ability. We have to try and build an educational culture that recognises unlimited potential and then apply science, data, art, judgement, communication, relationships to the shared effort that produces many diverse forms of education outcomes.”

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