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Preamble - France

The European Agency has set the following objective: explore the theme of the assessment of the learning of pupils and more specifically, examine how such assessment can help promote inclusive education. 

In order to do this two approaches will be explored and each one will be the subject of a report. First of all we shall provide a summary, respectively, of what is said in ordinary law and in laws concerning pupils with special educational needs about the assessment of learning and also examine to what extent these laws promote inclusive education 

We use the term “pupils with special educational needs” to designate both pupils with serious educational difficulties and pupils suffering from a deficiency or an illness.  The second report will focus on practices of assessment and specifically on those innovative practices; tools and methods that help promote inclusive education. It is precisely, however, because this work is being conducted within the European Agency, and so that each country can have an idea of the context that it is necessary to provide several preliminary clarifications about the French situation.  We shall therefore specify the terminology used in France in the field of assessment.  Then we shall define the field in which this study takes place.  Lastly, we believe that it is useful to give several general points of reference in terms of laws and practices related to the subject we are discussing and the educational system as a whole.

Terms used in learning assessment.

Although some countries in Europe use different terms when speaking of assessment depending on the different existing types of assessment, in France we use only the term “assessment”. In order to specify different forms of assessment however, we always use specific adjectives. Thus, when the assessment consists in identifying the pupil’s progress and difficulties in order to find responses adapted to the pupil’s needs, we use the term “diagnostic assessment”. When the assessment in question is conducted on the basis of a national protocol, we shall use the terms of pedagogical assessment. When the pupils are in the process of learning and the teacher is considering the means of regulation to use to make sure that a notion is acquired, we shall use the term “formative assessment”. In that case one of the procedures used can be a formative assessment, i.e. when the pupil himself adopts the objectives of success and updating of his capacities.  As for summative assessment, the usual procedures consist of grades and ratings that can take various forms: tests, normative assessments (the work of the pupil is referred to the work of other pupils), or certifying assessment (an assessment which gives official recognition to quantified assessments). 

The field in which this study takes place.

In the European Agency the choice was made to work at the primary school level.  It seems useful in the European context to point out that in France the term “primary school” covers both nursery school and elementary school.  Nursery school is attended by children from three to six (as of two years old in certain situations, in priority education zones, for example).  Elementary school is attended by children from six to eleven.  It is possible however, to extend or shorten a child’s period in elementary school by one year if necessary.

Facts necessary to understand the functioning of the French educational system, which we shall refer to.

It should be mentioned that this study is being conducted in a legal context that was recently changed by two new laws.  One of these is law n° 2005-102 of February 11, 2005 for equal rights and opportunities, participation and citizenship of disabled persons.  The other one, law n° 2005-380 of April 23, 2005, is a general policy and program law for the future of education in France.  We shall therefore refer to a certain number of new provisions included in the Code de l'éducation. 

Structure of the educational system

Education is compulsory for pupils from 6 to 16.  Children can however, attend nursery school at the age of three and every pupil is entitled to continue his education after the age of 16. Nursery school is for children from three to six, elementary school from six to 11, “collège” (the first three years of secondary school) for pupils from 11 to 15, “lycée” (the last three years of secondary school) for pupils from 15 to 18. Pupils then have access to higher education which takes place in universities or other institutions of higher learning.  Schooling, from nursery school to the university, is divided up into cycles.  Its teaching is based on programs which include the skills providing the basis for the different assessments carried out.  Very recently, the general policy and program law for the future of education in France of April 24, 2005 established “a common foundation of knowledge and skills” that the pupils must master on completing compulsory schooling, a foundation which however does not replace the educational programs.

Different types of assessment.

The French system of assessment (Levasseur et Cosnefroy, 2004, p.85)  is now made up of four major types of assessment.  First of all there is assessment during schooling in the form of regular tests that may result in grades.  At the end of the cycle or a level, depending on the grades obtained during the school year, the decision can be made to continue after a dialogue with the pupil and his parents. Such a decision can be made in particular for those pupils who have not attained the objectives of the common foundation of knowledge and skills at the end of their compulsory schooling.

Then there is the certificative assessment, which is the awarding of the diploma on the basis of results achieved.  We can mention two main examples that take the form of a national exam at the end of a cycle of studies covering the student’s entire educational program.  The first is the “brevet”, a certificate obtained after the pupil completes studies in the collège, which validates the education acquired and certifies the mastery of the knowledge and skills indispensable at the end of compulsory schooling.  The second is the baccalaureate which the pupil receives on successful completion of his studies in the lycée.  The lycée may be general, technical, or professional.  On completing the collège some pupils may choose professional training within a school or an apprenticeship program that leads to a CAP or BEP certificate.

Diagnostic assessments and result assessments constitute the two last types of assessment used in the French national education system.  These two types of assessments are distinct and have complementary objectives.



  • N.Bottani, P.Vrignaud., La France et les évaluations internationales, Report n°16 January 2005, publication of the Haut Conseil de l’évaluation de l’école.
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