The Standard Deviation

February 21, 2019

Dear Families,

I write from a cruising altitude of over 30,000 feet. If you read an earlier post about my passion for flying, you likely find yourself saying, “Oh dear.” Yeah, me too.  Statistics suggest that flying remains the safest mode of transportation. 

I find statistics challenging. I find them challenging not because I lack understanding. But because I function within the standard deviation. Statistically, I should not have been on a flight that burst into flames upon landing. Statistically, I should not have been on a bus the burst into flames. But, you guessed it. 

Multiple choice assessments always provided me with exciting growth opportunities. I thrived in essays and short answer questions. Multiple choice exams allowed me the distinct opportunity to remain humble. 


I distinctly remember after a multiple choice quiz for one of my graduate classes, my professor, Dr. Vaughn, commenting on my work. “Given your demonstration of understanding in class, it’s statistically impossible for you to have scored that low.” 

How does one respond to that? 

Thank you?

His passion for statistics baffled me. My ability to “defy the odds” fascinated him. He spent the remainder of the semester studying my approach to multiple choice tests. He tracked my thinking and process. We soon realized that my approach to multiple choice tests in itself was an anomaly. During one particular test, he asked me to talk him through my process. So, I completed the exam in his office. I talked my way through the entire test. I explained my thinking.

He quickly discovered my “issue.” I could rationalize my way to answers based on conditions not listed or provided in the question. My thought process always considered things from every angle. This skill provides great wisdom in many situations to be sure. However, sometimes facts and facts alone must be used to make decisions. 

Within education, we must seek and obtain balance. Structure and order offer important stability to the learning process. Yet, data and statistics allow for instruction that ensures students perform according to the standards utilized to measure growth. While students need to conceptualize concepts to make connections, data from statistics provide accurate measures of understanding. Often students thrive in environments that allow for appropriate learning noise. But still, we measure our success on the date provided from assessments.

Over the years, I realized that education cannot thrive in a vacuum of one of these qualities. In order to ensure complete understanding and students that embrace the learning opportunities, each component of learning must be considered.  Not because education would fail if one of the components is missing. But because student understanding would be limited. Not all students thrive in the structural realm. Some thrive in the big picture. For others, the big picture creates a lack of trust because the big picture can’t be proven with numbers and formulas. 

Over the next week, consider the first 3 posts of this series. Do you see your child described in any one of them? Do you identify with any of them? Next week, I will explore how to achieve optimal learning while ensuring that all student learning is considered.

As I type the flight attendants are still moving about the cabin. That is GOOD news.

Honored to Serve you All,

Janet Worley