Grading On A Curve

Whoever came up with the idea of grading on a curve deserves to have their medical care provided to them by the one at the lowest end of that curve, along with having their home built by the architect and their plane flown by the individual who was graded in the same manner. The problem with grading on a curve is that it doesn’t measure competency against any fixed standard. It only produces a range of results that theoretically produces a bell-shaped distribution of outcomes. The range gets shifted based on politics, public opinion, and economic factors. As time goes on, people are awarded degrees based on having participated in the educational process rather than the demonstration of mastery in key areas of knowledge. The result is that it becomes very difficult, if not impossible, for someone to know the degree of competence an individual has in any given profession.

Even as a physician, if I get sick in another city, I’m reduced to trying to find someone who graduated from a first tier medical school, who holds board certification in his or her own area of specialty. Even this doesn’t guarantee I’ll find someone highly skilled, but it improves the odds. When I finished my medical training and took my boards, only half of the physicians taking the exam were able to reach the high standards set by the board, ensuring that those individuals were among the best of the best. Then, lawsuits occurred, standards were diluted, and currently, there is a 90+ percentage pass rate among the newly certified. Just like in Lake Wobegone, we are now all above average.

This culture we have developed, promulgated by an educational system that aims at the lowest common denominator as the target of its efforts, is producing the erosion of quality we are experiencing in our country.  Meritocracy has become a dirty word. Organizational advancement, we are told, needs to happen based on meeting social and ethnic quotas, rather than ability. This is not to say that diversity doesn’t provide benefits, nor that anyone should be excluded based on race, religion or color of skin. By all means, create programs and venues that allow for those who have been historically disadvantaged to reach par with those who have been given more. The final arbiter, however, needs to remain ability to perform, to create. Any less, and those who are different will remain forever stigmatized, regardless of their ability, that they rose up not on their own merits. That is the worst injustice of all.

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