The boy who knew too much: a child prodigy

This is the true story of scientific child prodigy, and former baby genius, Ainan Celeste Cawley, written by his father. It is the true story, too, of his gifted brothers and of all the Cawley family. I write also of child prodigy and genius in general: what it is, and how it is so often neglected in the modern world. As a society, we so often fail those we should most hope to see succeed: our gifted children and the gifted adults they become. Site Copyright: Valentine Cawley, 2006 +

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Is 100% in an exam good enough?

Now, I realize that my title is provocative in a sense, but it is a reference to the attitudes prevalent, in Singapore, and some other parts of Asia (I see quite a lot of it in Malaysia, too), in which only perfect marks are deemed acceptable. Yet, I see a problem with the idea of a student getting 100% in an exam. What do you think? Do you think it is a good idea if a student gets 100% in an exam?

I ask, for a reason. Fintan, my seven year old son, returned home a few days ago, with his maths exam paper in tow. Written on it, in big red handwriting was: “100%”. Fintan was quite happy about this – and so I was I, but I admit my feelings were mixed. You see what does it mean that Fintan got 100% in maths? Does it mean he is superb at maths? Or does it mean something else, too?

Now, the first thing I did when Fintan told me his result was to congratulate him. Yet, behind my smiling eyes, there was a thought I did not express: if a student, ANY student gets 100% in an exam, it just means that they are not being challenged – the level of work does not meet the level of their ability. So, actually, when this is realized, it can be seen that 100% is actually a kind of bad news. It means that the student is not advancing in their work, at the pace they could be: their abilities are being underchallenged.

So, it is true that Fintan is very good at the maths he is asked to do, in school – but it is equally true, that he could easily do a lot harder work, than he is being asked to do. Fintan is cruising along in maths, on his great ability in that area. Now, I have no idea how much more challenging maths he could deal with – but I am sure that it is a lot more than he is going to see in school, in the next few years.

The next time your child comes home with 100% in their exams, reflect, therefore, that this is a very clear sign, that your child is not being taught at an appropriate level. It would be better if that child was getting 60 or 70%, for that would show that they were coping with the level, but that they were still at a level at which they could learn. It would actually be a healthier indicator of a good match between the child and the challenge.

So 100% in an exam is definitely not good enough. Be pleased, instead, if your child’s grades are less than perfect: it means they can still learn from that class – and be concerned if they are getting 100% or nearly so, for that means they are most definitely not able to learn any more at that level of academic challenge.

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posted by Valentine Cawley @ 8:26 PM 


Blogger E. Harris said...

Computer adaptive testing is sometimes set up so that harder or easier questions are presented in an attempt to make the percentage correct equal 50% for any test-taker. The score is then derived from the difficulty of the questions answered using item response theory (IRT) and Rasch measures, which effectively test the questions against a pool of test-takers with a known distribution of ability.

9:34 PM  
Blogger Valentine Cawley said...

Hi Enon...your suggestion is an excellent idea, but I don't see it being implemented in Malaysia's primary schools. It sounds too complicated for them. Yet, it does provide the solution of how to balance challenge and ability.


10:56 AM  

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