Why Notes Are Not an Exact Science

La Croix L’Hebdo : What are the notes used for?

Marie Duru-Bellat: Notes always have two functions, sometimes in conflict: it is a question of taking stock of what has been acquired but also of regulating the behavior of the pupil, of encouraging him, of telling him that he is happy with him. or on the contrary that he has not worked enough. The teacher may be tempted to “take revenge” on a particular student who disturbs the class or to reward another who makes his life easy, even if he is a little weak.

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It’s human… All of this obviously fits into a given context, that of the class and the establishment. Even if his class had only very good students, a teacher would be careful not to give everyone marks above 15/20, for fear of being accused of being lax.

We speak of “macabre constant” to designate the tendency that teachers have, consciously or not, to cut any packet of copies into three-thirds of equivalent size and to divide the students into categories: the good, the average, the bad …

Mr. DB. : I would rather say that the implicit model of the notation is the Gaussian curve (1). To guard against this, one of the solutions is to stick to the acquisition of skills, checking such and such a point. If all of these are in place, there is no reason not to give the student a 20/20.

But in fact, the score is also the result of other factors and is subject to individual biases. A teacher can thus be convinced that such a student will never get very far because his family is far from the culture of the school. On the contrary, he may think that another should have much higher grades, given the family environment in which he is immersed. There are also gender biases in certain subjects: for example, we will expect girls to have a little more difficulty than boys in physics.

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Conversely, in the small classes, we will have fewer reading expectations vis-à-vis boys, especially if they come from a modest background … In a society, we always operate with stereotypes. The teachers too, neither more nor less than the others. Evaluation is a social judgment.

Is scoring anything but an exact science?

Mr. DB. : All teachers know that there is always some vagueness in the grading. The problem is when this vagueness becomes systematic. This is why we have become accustomed to establishing a general average supposed to summarize the academic value of a student. Even if it does not make sense to mix math grades with sports and geography history. Even if it amounts to adding cabbages and carrots!

What exactly should we evaluate? The progress of the pupil compared to himself? In the classroom ?

Mr. DB. : The ideal is to be able to send different messages. The marks awarded to the pupil on a day-to-day basis could reflect his individual progress. With increasing results, even if the child progresses less quickly than his comrades.

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We can also provide for common standardized tests, to situate ourselves in relation to what we need to know. This is also the spirit of the national assessments of CP, CE1, sixth and second set up by the ministry. Standardized anonymous copies can also be used, as in the Pisa study (2), which compares the results of 15-year-olds.

This comparison provides a ranking of countries within the OECD. But the students also want to know how they stand in relation to their classmates …

Mr. DB. : Yes, because the school has two functions: to educate and to select. This last issue has taken on a lot of importance because today, the link between diploma and employment is very strong, where for a long time, work was often passed on from father to son. There is always in the rating a classification aim, around an average, which constitutes a social norm.

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Unfortunately, this creates a lot of inconsistency and bias in orientation, which is largely based on ratings. The same pupil can be in the bottom third of the class if he is educated in an elitist establishment, whereas he would be among the best if he were in a more popular school, where the teachers are more indulgent not to not discourage the class.

So it is better to be very good in an average high school than average in a very good high school?

Mr. DB. : Some families may be tempted to adopt such a tactic. Because in Parcoursup, the methods of access to higher education, for selective training or in tension, often take into account the rank that the student occupied in his class. Except that many training courses apply a modulation according to the establishment of origin: it is quite easy, during the examination of the files, to add one or more points to the average of the continuous control of the candidate. he comes from a high school with a very high success rate in the bac.

Is it right ?

Mr. DB. : It is academically fair but socially unfair. In the sense that the fact of studying in a good or a bad high school depends largely on our place of residence or the capacity of our parents to make us bypass the school card. The tragedy is that our school does not manage to correct the initial inequalities but, on the contrary, it amplifies them.

What consequence has the introduction of a large part of continuous assessment in the final mark of the bac?

Mr. DB. : The rise of continuous assessment, coupled with locally generous grading, may help some students to graduate. But this does not present a major issue, most young people anyway end up having this diploma, which is only a point of passage to higher education.

This measure can contribute to a harmonization of grading between establishments, without erasing the differences in actual level, with very variable requirements from one high school to another depending on the profile of the teachers, the resources at their disposal, the school climate… Perhaps this convergence of practices will bring to light the brutality of these inequalities so far masked by the vagueness of the evaluation.


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