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Initial identification of special educational needs - France

What is said in those laws specifically concerned with pupils with special educational needs about assessment of learning?

Co-ordination between ordinary law and laws concerning pupils with special educational needs: continuity and discontinuity

National programs, laws or recent circulars issued by the Ministry of National Education highlight the necessary link between learning and assessment practices. In addition these different legislative texts mention that the need to manage the heterogeneity inherent in every class.  The approach to pupils with special educational needs, linked to learning difficulties, is dealt with, as we have seen, in ordinary law. This management is naturally in keeping with the recommended assessment practices. Even though the link with the practice of diagnostic assessment is not really explicit in the general policy and program law for the future of education, it is reasonable to believe that the creation of a personalised program for educational success is based on a precise assessment of the pupil’s skills. In this law the same holds true for pupils suffering from specific oral and/or written language problems such as dyslexia, intellectually precocious pupils or pupils who do not speak French, for whom special arrangements and support measures are recommended. There too however, the link with a diagnostic assessment practice is implicit. However that may be, in these cases rather than speak of continuity between the two types of laws, we may speak more precisely about the internal consistency of ordinary law. If however, we refer to circular n° 2002-113 of April 4, 2002 on the systems of educational adaptation and integration in primary and secondary school, a circular issued before the general policy and program law for the future of education, we can really speak of continuity in the approach to pupils with special educational needs. Indeed it is on the basis of the class teacher’s assessments that the specialist teacher will seek to understand a pupil’s difficulties, even if he completes these assessments if necessary. However, the diagnostic assessment of the pupil’s needs is mainly the task of the pupil’s classroom teacher. The complementary evaluation of the external professionals will help identify what must be done so that the pupil may fully benefit from his schooling in an “ordinary” class. 

It is on the basis of this diagnosis that a personalised pedagogical project will be designed.  In terms of continuity between ordinary law and laws specific to pupils with special educational needs, aside from help in assessment methods, it is truly a “menu” (program or project) that is to be designed.  It seems moreover, that in dropping the term “personalised” there is at present the desire that the pupil him/herself be concerned by this “menu” and that the pupil be in as much as possible its author, including with respect to the implementation of the methods used in evaluating his learning. 

If one can speak of a continuity between what is said in ordinary law on education and what is said in laws on pupils with special educational needs, in particular pupils facing difficulties in learning, we can paradoxically also speak of a break between the two types of laws and between the way the question of assessment of learning is approached.

Indeed, Article 27 of the general policy and program law for education sets a challenge for us: “in schools, special arrangements and support for pupils experiencing difficulties are provided for in the project (…) when these difficulties are serious and permanent, the pupils receive adapted teaching”. It is as if beyond a certain degree of difficulty we are moving into the domain of “disability” (the word “adapted” replacing the word “specialised”), and therefore into specific laws and partly included, to be sure, in the Code of Education, such as the Law for Equal Rights and Opportunities, the Participation and Citizenship of Disabled Persons. We thus have a clear definition of the term “disability”:  

in the sense of the present law, a disability is constituted by any limitation on activity or restriction on participation in the life of society suffered by a person in his environment due to a substantial, durable, or definitive alteration of one or several physical, sensorial, mental, cognitive or psychic functions, to multiple disability or to an incapacitating health problem. 

For a pupil suffering from serious and permanent difficulties in a given environment due to an alteration of one or several functions, the aim is to design a personalised educational project. This time the project is explicitly based on an assessment not only of his skills but also of his needs, in the framework of a plan for compensation of the consequences of the disability. In a certain way we can say that there is a break with the idea of promoting inclusive education, as the problem of disabled pupils is the subject of a specific law. We might also speak of such a break in that it is not only the pupil’s skills that are evaluated but also his needs, and that it is not a program that is defined (that would concern only the school and the pupil) but rather a personalised plan aimed at compensating for the consequences of the disability and making education accessible to that pupil.  This break with the idea of inclusive education however, must be qualified.  Indeed certain articles of the law on disabled persons are included in the Code of Education, and moreover the purpose is still to promote inclusive education as the objective is really to design a personalised plan primarily to make education of the disabled pupil possible in an ordinary environment even if some arrangements at different moments are possible. 

Affirmation of the notion of assessment in the Law for Equal Rights and Opportunities, Participation and Citizenship of Disabled Persons.

If we briefly examine the place of assessment in the laws before the Law for Equal Rights and Opportunities, Participation and Citizenship of Disabled Persons we can observe that the term "assessment" is not very frequently used, and other terms are often mentioned such as « assessment of capacities and needs , thorough clinical review  ». Moreover, whenever the term "assessment" is used, the idea is either to evaluate "the child’s real possibilities" or to proceed to "a multi-subject assessment of the child’s development  in order to establish a review".  We can also observe that regardless of the type of assessment used, it was always aimed at deciding on the child’s future education. In other words the purpose was to decide whether the state of the child requires special education.

The spirit that emerges from the Law for Equal Rights and Opportunities, Participation and Citizenship of Disabled Persons is quite different.  Based on general principles of nondiscrimination, this law is organised around three key principles: guarantee to disabled persons free choice of their plan for life through compensation for the consequences of their disability; allow real participation by disabled persons in the life of society through the principle of overall accessibility; place disabled persons in the center of the structures related to them by replacing an administrative logic by a logic of service. In this context, the point is not to ask whether a disabled child requires specialised education, but rather to solve the problem of the accessibility of education for this child on the basis of his needs arising both from his deficiency but also from the environment in which he will be educated. Whenever possible schooling of the pupil in an ordinary educational environment is to be favoured. The status and the objectives of assessment are thus clearly expressed in this law.  Article L 112-2 illustrates this: 

{…] each disabled child is entitled to an assessment of his skills, his needs, and measures implemented in the framework of his education with a frequency adapted to the child’s situation.  This assessment is carried out by a team including members specialised in different fields {…] On the basis of the results of the assessment an educational program is proposed to each child as well as to that child’s family.  This program is based on a personalised educational plan including necessary adjustments.  Whenever possible the plan favours education in an ordinary school environment.  The personalised educational plan constitutes one element of the compensation plan.

The specific laws on pupils with special educational needs, more precisely on disabled pupils, somewhat changes the image we have had so far of the assessment of learning and educational skills. Indeed from now on assessment of learning and skills is very closely linked to the assessment of the pupil’s needs and moreover the analysis of the data of the assessment of learning must be correlated to the data of assessments carried out by other professionals with whom we work.  Lastly, it is on the assessment of pupils’ needs that decisions made by the Commission on Rights and Autonomy in the Département Center for Disabled Persons on the providing of compensation depend. 

In this law assessment is clearly intended to serve inclusive education.

 

Sources:

  • Circulars n°82/2 and n°82-048 of January 29, 1982.
  • Appendices XXIV to the decree of March 9, 1956 modified by the decrees of April 22, 1988 and October 27, 1989.  
  • Circulars n°82/2 and n°82-048 of January 29, 1982.
  • Appendices XXIV to the decree of March 9, 1956 modified by the decrees of April 22, 1988 and October 27, 1989. 
  • Law n°2005-102 of February 11, 2005 for equal rights and opportunities, participation and citizenship of disabled persons.
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