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Implementation of assessment policy - France

How are the laws applied? What are the usual assessment practices in elementary school? Do real practices reflect the spirit of the laws?

To illustrate our observations we shall mainly use two reports. One of them, prepared by Jean Ferrier, General Inspector of National Education (July 1998), deals with the improved effectiveness of elementary school.  The other discusses access to education of disabled children and adolescents.  Its two authors are respectively Bernard Gossot and Claude Mollo, General Inspectors of National Education (March 1999).

Current assessment practices

On practices in the classroom

As Jean Ferrier points out, the French educational system was imbued with a highly normative approach.  As of 1969 however, in the legislative texts assessment procedures replaced control and grading procedures and more attention began to be paid to the progress that a pupil was able to make with regard to himself. 

Today it seems that teachers generally privilege summative assessments and that they still have trouble including assessment in the process of the pupil’s learning.  Formative assessment, « that makes a concrete link between teaching and learning », « that does not limit itself to an observation, but that must make it possible to take enlightened decisions”, “that links the pupil to his way of doing things and to the adoption of the objectives”, “that makes it possible to build different paths ,” is not yet a common practice in classrooms. Jean Ferrier speaks of an “instrumental drift” following the setting up of the policy of cycles, and observes that “assessment, consubstantial with this policy, has not been really understood”. 

More specifically, as for the use of national assessments, Jean Ferrier observes that this procedure has become common and that it is chosen by a certain number of teachers for both diagnostic and regulatory purposes. According to Jean Ferrier however, these assessments are not exploited optimally even if they lead us to raise questions about pedagogical practices in the framework of training. The response phase is left to the initiative of teachers and consists in repeating failed exercises.  The source of the difficulty is not known and most often the solution chosen is simply to multiply exercises of the same nature as those that were not successful.  The objectives are rarely dealt with, i.e. the knowledge or know-how that constitute difficulties for the pupils. 

Following different very motivating and explicit circulars however, teachers have prepared Personalised Programs of Help and Progress at an initial stage for CE2 pupils using the results of national assessments and then gradually for every pupil encountering learning difficulties in elementary school. These educational assistance projects however, often have a formal character and are not strictly speaking carried out in the framework of differentiated educational time.

None of the different practices now used, formative or summative assessments, or even national assessments, really favour the active role of the pupil or his sense of responsibility. Those practices based on criteria of assessment elucidated with the pupils on the explanation of mistakes and enabling pupils to acquire greater power over their work and to free themselves from an attitude of anxiety or even guilt are not yet very highly developed. 

Lastly, as concerns the role of parents Jean Ferrier mentions the use of the livret scolaire, a log in which the pupil’s progress is recorded. Pupils receive a livret scolaire for each cycle of studies.  The function of the livret scolaire is twofold: it provides a follow-up of pupils’ work and keeps the pupils’ parents informed.  The use of these livrets scolaires is not very encouraging: the poor content of the livrets reveals the infrequency or even absence of assessments in various subjects, the normative character of assessments and the absence of a response to the problems observed.  Sometimes, but this is rare, the tools produced by schools are on the contrary characterised by finely tuned practices of assessment even if the information related to the different responses most often remains limited.

On the practices of specialist teachers

Specialist teachers work with pupils with special educational needs linked to serious learning difficulties or to different types of deficiencies. Certain reports  of the General Inspection department report practices and initiatives disconnected from the daily work of teachers in their classes.  More specifically, as concerns assessment practices, they are based on assessments conducted in the classroom, but are completed by other types of standardised or non-standardised assessments, sometimes formative or summative diagnoses.  The difficulty lies in the fact that “the teachers and the families are informed but rarely participate in the complex strategies that should provide a role for them, each one with his own function”  .  This analysis should be seen in a relative light in particular for the problem of educating disabled pupils and depending on the type of deficiency to be dealt with. 

On disabled pupils

The assessment of learning for disabled pupils must be placed in the general context described previously of the present learning assessment practices in elementary school.  As for the specific character of the deficiency, teachers can generally seek the help of professionals in care-providing services. There remains the question on the one hand of the adaptation of assessments situations themselves, and on the other hand the analysis of the results obtained and the adjustments to make. Even if practices develop favourably, we can still observe at present two dangers of a certain drift: an excessively normative approach, and a trend toward medicalization.  In France, the national programs constitute the reference valid for all pupils, including disabled pupils, for learning. This reference sometimes leads to decisions to have a pupil repeat a school year, decisions that are debatable in view of the specific character of certain deficiencies.  As for the question of medicalization, the designing of an individualised educational plan by a team of teachers and medical and paramedical professionals is in itself a rich and interesting initiative.  It does not however, necessarily help teachers to conceive of assessment as the search for the pupil’s needs instead of approaching the pupil and his scholastic results from a negative point of view.

 

Sources:  

  • J.Ferrier, Améliorer l’efficacité de l’école primaire, Ministry of National Education, 1998. 
  • There are two types of specialised teachers, teachers assigned to pupil support networks. The two specializations are expressed in two options of the CAPA/SH certificate (certificate of professional aptitude for specialised types of help, adapted teaching, and the education of pupils in a situation of disability). The specialised teacher with option E teaches and provides pedagogical assistance to children who encounter difficulties in elementary school.  The specialised teacher with option G provides reeducation.  There are also teachers placed at the disposal of medical care centers and day hospitals.  In this category there are different specializations divided into four options: option A for auditory deficiencies; option B for visual deficiencies; option C for motor deficiencies; option D for serious cognitive function problems. Specialised teachers with these options help favour the education of disabled pupils in ordinary schools.
  • Les réseaux d'aides spécialisées aux élèves en difficultés, coll. reports of the General Inspection Department of the Ministry of National Education, C. N. D. P. 1997.
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