Assessment at school: how to reinvent it so that it benefits students more?

► “A contract with the students”

Lucie Mottier-Lopezprofessor of education at the University of Geneva

“Traditionally, evaluation meets the two aims of school. It can be at the service of learning. It is also too often used – especially in Switzerland or France – to rank, select and sort students.

In the first case, the assessment is at the service of the students and helps to identify learning problems so that everyone, even the weakest, acquires the fundamentals allowing them to integrate into society. In the second, it aims to certify the knowledge and skills acquired, for example at the end of the cycle or during an exam, with the consequences of giving or blocking access to certain training courses, to certain trades. It then benefits the most efficient.

Many teachers find this distinction artificial or believe that the only real assessment is in the grading. Others suffer from having to adopt sometimes the posture of a coach, sometimes that of a judge. And would gladly delegate the assessment of their students to colleagues.

This leads educational researchers to chart a third way. They highlight the principle of coherence: the student is questioned about what is seen in class and not about elements that borrow from general culture, which is closely linked to social origins. To do this, the teacher integrates the evaluation dimension from the design of the course. He also offers students a “contract”, in which he specifies his expectations. Approach that helps him build a relationship of trust.

Teachers must also give the most precise feedback to the student on what he needs to rework. What happens to this feedback is more important than the evaluation itself. The goal is to allow the student to learn sustainably and not to pass a test. If the evaluation reveals that a notion of maths is not acquired, it must be reviewed, in order to be able to continue to build on one’s learning. If it is acquired, it must be kept to calmly consider the future.

This also presupposes involving the pupils in the evaluation. Through self-assessment or peer assessment, always confronted with that of the teacher. Each child thus learns to take a critical and constructive look at the way he learns.

The teachers themselves benefit from thinking about evaluation collectively, for example by meeting regularly to design and correct homework according to expectations and criteria defined together. They can also reflect on assessment as part of the school project.

The note, if well designed, can have educational value. But it shouldn’t be so central. Because it often embodies a hierarchical aim and risks screening out practices that are more geared towards student progress. »

► “Evaluate more by skill”

Brigitte Hazardgeneral inspector of education, sport and research

“Practices have evolved in primary and middle school following the national conference that the Ministry of Education organized in 2014 to bring out an assessment that is both benevolent and demanding. But more than this event, it was the concomitant overhaul of the common base that changed the situation. Because since then, without neglecting knowledge, more attention is paid to skills.

This logic makes it possible to better measure the progress of each student, without systematically comparing their level with that of their classmates. This helps to motivate weaker students more. This helps to make the link between school learning and its use in everyday life. Above all, this contributes to apprehending the child or adolescent as a whole person.

This evolution has certainly not been without brakes. Some teachers have the feeling that an extra workload is being imposed on them, by asking them to constantly juggle between assessment by skill, without grades, and grading, which remains necessary for the issue of the patent, the baccalaureate or even for the procedure Parcoursup. We must also continue to change mentalities among students and their families. It is a question of convincing them that the evaluation is not there only for the purpose of orientation but that it can and must help each pupil to progress.

Often receiving former college students broken by the traditional knowledge grading system, the vocational high school also gives a key place to assessment by skill. The same cannot be said for the general and technological high school. Practices there still need to be dusted off, even if things are moving forward, under the effect of baccalaureate reform. As this overhaul provides for the continuous assessment of 40% of the final grade, teachers feel more responsible for their grades.

Some feel that they are under evaluative pressure because they must have at least three grades per term. Some also mention pressure from students and their parents, who, knowing that each control counts, try to negotiate additional points or a remedial assignment.

But since the new baccalaureate, each establishment has engaged in a collective reflection to harmonize – and not standardize – the grading practices of its teachers. Every teacher today must be able to explain how a particular grade was given. In most cases, this is enough to avoid disputes. »

Assessment at school: how to reinvent it so that it benefits students more?