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a blog from young economists at Nova SBE

To a reform of the grading system in France ?

In October 2012, François Hollande, president of the Republic of France, declared that he wanted to reform the grading system in Education to stop the “negative evaluation”. Since the beginning of the school year, the new Minister of Education, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem chose this objective as one of her first mission.

This is a very difficult reform because there is no “basic” model existing: almost every country has its own grading system, from the reduction of the scale to the total extinction of the scores. Thus, many experimentations are already leaded in around 2200 different schools since more or less six years, in which different methods are applied. Friday 14th of November, Mrs. Vallaud-Belkacem visited one of these secondary schools located in Vic-Fezensac (Gers), and the working groups of Education ministry took this opportunity to have a view on the balance sheet of these experimentations.

This school, the “Collège Gabriel-Séailles”, has implemented the suppression of the grades step by step for six years. They started to experiment on one single cohort, but now every class of the Collège is working with this new system: a panel of knowledge and competences in each subject, evaluated with colours (green for acquired, yellow for being acquired, and red for non-acquired).
According to the pupils, it is “clarifying the evaluation process” and is a “better way to understand what are the points to work harder”. For the teachers, it helps them to “build new work methods based on the needs of the pupils”. The relation between teacher and pupil is also evolving through this system: the status of “judge” or “censor” of the professor turned more into a person who “go and evolve” with the pupils. In this way, the evaluation loose its social function (report the results of the pupils and the competences of the teacher) and recovers its pedagogic function (report the progression of the pupils, and the efficiency of the pedagogic situation applyied). We move then from an evaluation of the learning to an evaluation for the learning.

Concerning the results, the Collège Gabriel-Séailles, in which 20% of the entering pupils were considered as in “great difficulty” in 2009, has seen its rate of success at the BEPC raising to 93%, with 70% of mentions (while the national averages are respectively 85% and 51.6%). Moreover, the reorientation rate in 4e (le penultimate grade in secondary school) was divided by three since the implementation of the program.
In every experimental schools, professors report an increase in attendance and participation, combined with an increase in self-confidence. The competition is also greatly reduced between pupils, and it has been observed a great development of mutual aid in classes experimenting this system for a longer period.
Moreover, the system is profitable for every type of student: for example, many good pupils usually set a 12/20 as a correct grade, and don’t make more effort to improve and progress; that won’t be possible with the skill system. It is also the same with the best students: when you obtain 15 or more out of 20, it is way more difficult to make you understand some messages as “you still have to progress in grammar” Thus, this kind of evaluation is profitable for everyone, making them work not in a competition spirit but in synergy.

Despite these results, the public opinion is divided on the question. The great majority of pupils, pupils’ parents and teachers involved into one of the experiment declared they were enthusiastic and supporting this idea, while many of those who didn’t participated talk about “strange classes” and  “abstract method”. The grading system from 0 to 20 exists since the creation of the public school 130 years ago, so changing it would be an “earthquake” for the society, declared Eric Violette, professor in Saône et Loire. He also add that it may “need few generations to get out of this grading culture”. The major problem is then to inform and explain clearly the methods employed to the teachers and, the most important I think, the pupils’ parents, in order to create a clear and understandable system.

Benjamin Cambronne #1941

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Author: studentnovasbe

Master student in Nova Sbe

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