David Miliband: Why students are getting better and better at exams

From a speech at Imperial College, London, by the Minister of State for School Standards
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One myth about education is that, because there is an unchanging distribution and level of intelligence and aptitude, there should, therefore, be an unchanging distribution and level of educational achievement. This deep-seated myth relies on two confusions.

One myth about education is that, because there is an unchanging distribution and level of intelligence and aptitude, there should, therefore, be an unchanging distribution and level of educational achievement. This deep-seated myth relies on two confusions.

The first is between different types of intelligence. It is a truism that different people are good at different things. And because different people are good at different things, it is silly to rely on a single metric of aptitude in measuring achievement. Increasingly, our tests and exams are focusing on a broader range of intellectual competence than was traditionally measured by conventional IQ tests. For example, students are asked to apply knowledge as well as recall it. The result is that more of our youngsters are able to show what they are capable of.

There is also the confusion between intelligence or aptitude, and achievement. Whatever your potential, it is its realisation that is the vital task of education. And education systems can be more or less successful at fulfilling potential. So even with a given distribution of aptitudes, there is plenty of scope for education to become more successful at realising potential.

For example, there are now an increasing range of teaching strategies that can substantially accelerate rates of learning and help students acquire a broader range of independent learning skills. My contention is not that today's students are born cleverer than their parents; it is that schools and teachers are getting better at getting the best out of them.

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