Thursday, September 17, 2009

We want everyone to be above average?

The online version of the Ottawa Citizen just published a story about how well local school boards are doing relative to the provincial average.

As I read through the article, just about every statistic was compared with the provincial average. Essentially the article is saying "above average good, below average bad." This is not completely unreasonable, but it is simplistic and makes education look like a competition between school boards when it should be about simply doing what is best for the students.

The big problem with using average as the yardstick is that, no matter how you slice it, approximately half the school boards are going to be below average. That is how average works. Currently the province has a goal to have 75% of students score at the provincial standard or above on the EQAO (Education Quality and Accountability Office) tests. As a reference, the provincial average for Grade 3 Math results is 70%. However, even if schools across the province made massive gains and all scored better than the 75% goal, still there would be about half the schools below average. Would that mean that those below average schools are bad? Nope, but that is probably what the media would report.

So, the moral of the story is that if you want to truly understand stories in the media, it is important to know about statistics and how the various statistical measures work. Otherwise you may end up trying to figure out a way to achieve the impossible of making everyone above average.


  1. Your point about needing to understand statistics to better understand media pieces is a great one. Do you know of any online sites a person might look at to learn more?

  2. As usual, my wife is asking me the hard questions. :)

    I did a Google search on understanding statistics and came up with these three sites that look pretty decent: