It was very hard to succeed in Ms. Fiona’s class. She taught Mathematics, that’s why. It just proved to be a very difficult subject for most kids. Only a few did succeed — those who were naturally gifted and those who were super hardworking. They always scored the highest on homework, tests and exams; way above the class average. The average could be 60 and these students would consistently score anywhere from the 80s to 90s. It was amazing to watch. In fact, if not for their high scores, the class average could easily be below 50. They spiked the class average because of their stellar performance!
The other students always complained to their parents about the unfairness. “Why would only a few do so well and the rest of us be failing?” The complaints reached the ears of the school authorities and they decided to intervene. They called in Ms. Fiona for questioning. She explained to them that it is what it is. That some students are just more hardworking than others and although there are some naturally gifted ones, they were the exception and very few in number; about one or two. Mostly, those who did well just studied harder than the others and took homework more seriously. These ones even often inspired the other students to work harder. Other students typically tried to make friends with the successful ones, either to get them to help with homework, to become study partners and sometimes, unfortunately, to be able to cheat in exams. But overall, hardworking students inspired others to work harder.
She also pointed out that her class average score had actually been improving over time for this reason. So, overall, everyone was in better shape than they previously were. The authorities noted that she made some good points but they were still hung up on the seeming unfairness of it all. Only a handful of students excelled while the majority was far behind them. It didn’t matter to them that the class performance had been steadily improving over time, what they wanted were equality and fairness.
So they came up with a bright idea! They ordered Ms. Fiona to assign the class average grade to every student no matter what they scored individually. So from then on, on every homework, test or exam, each student was to score whatever the class average was. This way, everyone would be on the same level and be more inspired to work harder. She went away with her orders.
After the next math test, every student received their grades to their astonishment. They each scored 75! The surprise went both ways. Pleasant for the majority, but dreadful for the few hardworking ones. They wondered why they performed so poorly. So they resolved to work even harder on the next test and on the next one, and on the next one. But they realised that no matter how hard they studied, they weren’t just getting proportionate results. The rest of the class was in high spirits as their grades climbed and climbed and climbed. The school authorities loved this too! There were no more complaints coming from parents.
After a while, when the hardworking students realised that no matter how hard they studied, they always scored the same as the rest of the class, they decided to quit studying so hard and relax just like the rest of the students. They played more sports, more video games and went to more parties. Because of this, the class average began to fall. Only the naturally gifted were scoring high and they were just too few in number to pull up the whole class. Everyone started scoring 60, then 50, then 40, then 30s on tests. Home works were hardly ever done. This was alarming to the school authorities as parents began to flood their offices with complaints once again. They called in Ms. Fiona for questioning and she assured them that she was sticking to their orders. She also showed them the original graded scripts and they saw that each individual student was now performing as poorly as the rest, so their goal of equality and fairness was being met at an even better rate now. You didn’t need to redistribute grades anymore as everyone now performed equally, naturally, without even trying. This must have been their goal. This must be the ideal.
She was summarily fired. The complaints from parents became unbearable. The big exams would soon come and they were threatening to pull their kids out of the school and enroll them somewhere else to be better prepared. Ms. Fiona was replaced by a teacher from one of the best schools in the district. The school authorities paid a whole lot of money to get her to come over. More than double Ms. Fiona’s pay.
She took over and the first thing she noticed was the equal-grading system Ms. Fiona had put in place. She said it was the most ridiculous system she had ever seen and called the school authorities ‘crazy’ for thinking up such an idea. She promptly reverted to the normal grading system where what you scored was what you got. She called in some of the once super hardworking students and encouraged them to start working hard again.
By this time, the class was already in such low spirits and performing so poorly that when the more hardworking ones noticed a little uptick in their grades, they were very excited. The rest of the class began to notice this excitement and this improvement. It reverberated through the classroom and other students wanted to find out how some of their classmates were now performing much better than before. They had all become more sociable – thanks to all the parties they attended together, so it was easier for them to buddy up and create study groups to help one another improve their grades.
Gradually, everyone’s grades began to pick up. Disproportionately though, but still much better than the abysmal performance they had all been banished into under Ms. Fiona’s system. Everyone loved the new teacher. The school authorities hailed her as the best ever! She had taken a very dumb class and transformed the students into high achievers.