From the NYT opinion page:
Why Can’t Everyone Get A’s?
Excellence is not a zero sum game.
By Alfie Kohn
Mr. Kohn is the author of books on human behavior and education.
June 15, 2019
… Here’s a thought experiment. Suppose that next year virtually every student passed the tests. What would the reaction be from politicians, businesspeople, the media? Would these people shake their heads in admiration and say, “Damn, those teachers must be good!”?
Of course not. Such remarkable success would be cited as evidence that the tests were too easy. …
The inescapable, and deeply disturbing, implication is that “high standards” really means “standards that all students will never be able to meet.” If everyone did meet them, the standards would just be ratcheted up again — as high as necessary to ensure that some students failed.
The standards-and-accountability movement is not about leaving no child behind. To the contrary, it is an elaborate sorting device, intended to separate wheat from chaff. The fact that students of color, students from low-income families and students whose first language isn’t English are disproportionately defined as chaff makes the whole enterprise even more insidious.
For a different perspective, I met a guy once who went to Westminster, the London “public” (private) school that’s on the grounds of Westminster Abbey. According to him, it is Eton/Harrow, but for rich Londoners who actually love their children and don’t want to pack them off to boarding school at age 8 or so. (So 75% of the students are day students who live at home with their families.)
He said that at Westminster, you only had to score 70% on a test to get an A (or its local equivalent). This wasn’t grade inflation, however, it was that the tests were just extremely hard to remind young punks that they didn’t know it all and they still had a lot left to learn about the subject, even if they were A students.
Westminster’s methods seemed to pay off, at least during the Enlightenment, judging from these alumni:
John Dryden (1631–1700), poet and playwright
John Locke (1632–1704), philosopher
Sir Christopher Wren (1632–1723), architect and scientist, co-founder of the Royal Society
Robert Hooke FRS (1635–1703), British scientist
Henry Purcell (1659–1695), composer
Charles Wesley (1707–1788), Methodist preacher and writer of over 6,000 hymns
Edward Gibbon FRS (1737–1794), historian
Jeremy Bentham (1748–1832), lawyer, eccentric and philosopher