Debate: How to make good use of school assessments?


What can be done when evaluations do not stop falling, be they international ( Pisa , Pirls or Timss ), or national ( CP, CE1 ), and that they are not very good? Should we deplore, with Stanislas Dehaene, the absence of a reaction of the “Pisa shock” type  ? The disappointing performances of French students in recent surveys have most often had the effect of indignant reactions in some people – “we have fallen very low! – and to create, in others, a feeling of helplessness.

Is there nothing better to do than to shout, with the wolves, to the assassination of the School, or raise your arms, with the sheep, to spread in lamentations? How to make intelligent and useful use of level assessments? It seems possible to sketch an eight-point answer.

Take note

One must always, and first, take note of the results. Of course, evaluative surveys must be put into perspective, in their context (s). Of course, their methodologies can be critically examined. Of course, their social use requires being questioned. But one gains nothing to challenge in principle their existence, and to consider their results a priori as unacceptable. All that illuminates (even partially) is useful.

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It is necessary to question the causes of the situation that evaluations help to make known. But, on the one hand, without rushing on the first “culprit” come, as if there could be only one decisive factor, such as “May 68”, or the “global method” of learning of reading , or else a “pedagogical plot”. And, on the other hand, without believing that a possible correlation is, by the same token, and automatically, a cause.


As far as education is concerned, one should not expect more from evaluation than it can give. There is no causal relationship between diagnosis and treatment. Evaluations can contribute to a diagnosis, highlighting dysfunctions in the education system which, for example, do not achieve the expected results. But they do not have the capacity to determine the appropriate treatments. These must be invented, in an effort of reflection, turned towards innovation. Because it will be necessary to innovate to succeed .

Promote the pedagogy

Pedagogy is (too) often despised, when it is not considered responsible for all ills (point 2), accusing it of being at the origin of an assassination of the School. The invented treatments must be tested in the field. In this sense, the current minister is right in favoring experimentation , in the interests of pragmatism.

But then it is first and foremost educational research that must be recognized and supported. This does not detract from the interest of all other types of research, neurobiological, psychological, sociological … But, since it is a question of contributing to the emergence of effective practices, it is necessary, in all logical, to privilege the discipline which takes these practices for object, rather than to brocade it.

Observe and analyze

We are here at the heart of the new pedagogical struggle. Because it is necessary to observe and analyze what is happening, but: here, as elsewhere! The example of some foreign countries can be very informative , highlighting “recipes” of success. We always win to consider what is successful elsewhere. But are we, for example, ready to turn our children into learning machines, as do some world-class leaders?

This is why French teachers must be encouraged to innovate and experiment. To go see, and make known, what they manage to do useful and effective. Many teachers did not wait for hypothetical official authorizations to produce inventive and effective practices.

There is a wealth there, which only needs to be recognized, that is to say, identified, analyzed, and disseminated. Recognize that an institution that compiles “all data in a site that summarizes the impact, cost and soundness of various pedagogies” can only be welcome, provided that it has not been constrained, upstream , this educational diversity …

Give means

It is necessary to give means, but in an appropriate way, and without falling into the obsession of “always more”. Because, on the one hand, the quantitative progression is not necessarily synonymous with progress in the results (although it can contribute strongly!). And, on the other hand, it is necessary to exceed a request for uniform progression, to take into account the diversity of needs. That’s the whole problem of priority education. This leads us to the next point, which will take us out of an analysis in purely educational terms.

Fight social inequalities

In France, students’ results are very (too!) Strongly determined by their socio-economic background. How then can we hope to improve them by purely academic measures? Admittedly, these are necessary. But the outcome of the educational struggle is strongly determined by the fight against social inequalities.

To want more school mix is ​​to want, first and foremost, more social diversity. And, ultimately, less inequality. When the socio-territorial-economic inequalities are too important, the educational struggle becomes, if not desperate, at least very difficult.

Implement a “humanistic” evaluation

Finally, we can go back to the evaluation. Pedagogical struggle is also engaged in the field of evaluation itself. We are entitled to expect it to be both methodologically irreproachable but also, ethically, “humanistic” (be it large international surveys as well as the evaluation practiced in the school field).

The evaluation must ask itself the question of the legitimacy of the evaluated expectations, from a triple point of view: is this the model of man that one can dream of? Do we refer to programs that express the most basic needs? Do we take into account the concrete reality of people?

Is humanistic the evaluation that makes the choice of a society where the man is an end in itself, and not simply a means. An evaluation that never forgets that it is at the service of the evaluated, by enlightening the actors of the educational process in their research of the modes of action best adapted to the pupils and the trained ones, as they are in their diversity. One could say: the evaluation that puts the concern of the person before that of the market.

It is thus the constant concern of the person and of his development which can, and must, animate those who would respond constructively to the “shock” of the evaluations, thus concretely making the school “a national cause” .

Author Bio: Charles Hadji is Honorary Professor (Education Sciences) at the University Grenoble Alpes