Constant stress. Parents of students and their children are often obsessed with grades. Even more so in secondary school, due to school life management software (Pronote, Sconet, etc.), which records all the performances and failures of students from college. This concern has deleterious effects on students, as highlighted by a study by the National Center for the Study of School Systems (Cnesco) * published this Thursday.

According to this, 57% of parents say that their child is stressed before a test, 45% that he loses his means during an assessment, and 51% that the return of copies is a stressful time for him. It must be said that the practices of some teachers are worrying, because more than a third of the pupils have been confronted at least once in the year with the announcement of the results of the pupils aloud in front of the whole class, or in the order of performance, from the best copy to the worst. In addition, school management software has increased competition between students, since the lowest and highest grades are indicated, as well as the class average for each test or homework assessed. “Normative assessment by grades encourages comparison and classification of students, and therefore to the discomfort of some”, underlines Agnès Florin, co-responsible for Cnesco.

The lack of originality of the French in terms of evaluation

Apart from the pressure they put on students, grades also have deleterious consequences on learning, according to Cnesco researchers: “Students tend to seek to be the best or to avoid getting a bad grade rather only to learn, to progress in their learning,” they write. And those who regularly get bad grades “risk developing a feeling of helplessness and even attributing their repeated failures to a lack of intelligence”, estimates André Tricot, co-responsible for Cnesco.

If grades have taken on so much weight in the lives of students, it is first of all because France does not shine by its originality in terms of assessment. Notably because teachers are not well trained in this area: only 26% say they are “well prepared” to assess their students. Hence Cnesco’s recommendation to train them better on this point, in particular by having them accompanied by an academic referent.

Develop skills assessment

The body for independent evaluation of school policies recognizes that France has nevertheless initiated a change in doctrine on evaluation since 2010. “Today, primary schools evaluate pupils with indicators other than grades . It is interested in the level of mastery of skills, ”says Agnès Florin, co-responsible for Cnesco. But in college and high school, numerical notation reigns supreme. Especially since, with the reform of the baccalaureate, the marks of the reports count for 40% of the overall mark. A continuous control system that generates a lot of pressure throughout the year of 1st and part of that of terminal. And which does not value the progress of the student during the year.

It therefore seems necessary to develop the assessment of skills in secondary school, which would allow students to sometimes make mistakes without being penalised. If the abolition of marks seems utopian in certain secondary school classes, “they must be supplemented at the very least by a school report which would indicate the level of mastery of skills”, estimates Isabelle Negro, professor of developmental psychology at the University of Nice- Sophia Antipolis. “The assessment must also reflect what is happening in class over time,” insists Arnaud Luca.

Multiply the methods of evaluation

An experiment has been carried out since 2021 in maths lessons with the second classes of the Nicolas Brémontier high school in Bordeaux. Students only receive grades at the end of the term. This allows them to evolve at their own pace to acquire the skills expected in the discipline. “The score awarded at the end of the quarter is not an average, but a score which reflects, overall, the level of mastery reached at the end of the period”, indicates Cnesco. A positive experience, whose specific feedback is expected in 2023.

In order to reduce the stress felt during checks, Cnesco also suggests multiplying the different evaluation methods. In particular by increasing the number of knowledge tests in class, without these being marked. “Research has also shown that such evaluations during learning are more effective than checks at the end of the sequence, because they allow teachers to make feedback on possible errors so that students do not reproduce them. more,” notes Agnès Florin.

Make the class average disappear

So that the marks are less an object of comparison, Isabelle Negro also believes “that we must eliminate the average of the class, as well as the best and the worst mark. These are indicators that say nothing about the student’s progress,” she points out.

Finally, for the grades to be better understood, the Cnesco believes that teachers must put the package on the feedback they give to their students when they give them their copies, insisting on the means of solving an exercise or the method to follow in order to complete the assignment. And by planning another evaluation right after to implement what they have understood.

For the time being, the Minister of Education, Pap Ndiaye, has not clearly specified whether he wants to review the method of student assessment. In a letter to teachers sent last June, through which he indicated his roadmap, he announced that he wanted to ensure the well-being of the pupils: “Within the confines of the secular school, each child must be able to feel welcomed, protected from demeaning speeches, encouraged “.

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