Note his pizza delivery man or his taxi driver: for once, would school be the way of reason?


When it comes to assessment, would the school get wise while the rest of society goes mad? We note, in fact, the coexistence of two movements in opposite directions.

One, concerning school evaluations, which strives to better explain the objects of evaluation (new programs, core competencies ), advocates a more reasonable use of marks (or even a deletion of marks ), and implements new personalized diagnostic tools, such as “descriptive scales”, which list the characteristics of the expected production, defining for each level of progression.

The other affects work, and multiple sectors of the market economy, in the sense of an outburst of ratings , without any methodological or ethical precaution, when it is a question for example of rating a meal delivery person home, the operator of a telecommunications company, or a taxi driver.

Would school evaluators be in a position to lecture others, and for what reasons?

Student interest

In fact, at school as in the rest of society, the same dangers lie in wait, the same impulses are at work, and the same safeguards must be put in place. But, one could hypothesize that the fact that they operate in the field of an educational activity makes the evaluators more spontaneously virtuous!

As the interest of the pupils can never be totally lost sight of, the need for evaluation to be at the service of pupil learning is always more or less present in the minds of teachers. This motivates them to seek and implement evaluation methods less sensitive to bias factors, in particular of psychosocial origin; and more just, by avoiding the temptation of abuse of power.

However, virtue is not immediately obvious, and academic assessment is not immune to excesses or absurdities. Questionable logics can be at work, such as that consisting in betting everything on the selection of an elite, through the multiplication of competitions, which classify and eliminate; or admissions on files and transcripts, which in fact favor certain courses. And we can pursue debatable goals, such as establishing a hierarchy of establishments.

The temptation to win is never far away, and many mistakes are made, even blows struck, in the name of the search for excellence. The fight for a “formative” evaluation, which would be at the service of the pupil by helping him to progress through a better perception of his strengths and weaknesses, is never won in advance. But we must recognize that this has nothing to do with the spectacle offered by the economic world.

Consumer judges

With regard to evaluation, the socio-economic field has become a veritable “Wild West” . Rating is a firearm, which one draws at any time, and for any purpose. And just as in the Far West, everyone is both a shooter and a target, so each citizen is today constantly in the position of judge / judge, notator / noted.

Here, you are asked to add, or subtract, stars; there, to note on 5 a furnishing product, or the work of the one who changed the wheels of your car. Since the advantage is always with whoever shoots the fastest, business revel in quick reviews.

There are no clear rules for making notes. What we have the right to expect from objects or people assessed is never precisely defined. But the system endures, and develops, because everyone finds its account there. The search for profits is made easier.

By helping to establish hierarchies of “products”, consumers are doing the work of sellers. They derive their benefit from the impression given to them of becoming effective actors in economic life, always having their say. Which, it should be said in passing, confirms Rousseau’s adage ( Du Contrat Social , book 1, chap. 1): “Such as one thinks himself the master of others, who never ceases to be more a slave than them”.

Evaluation, a need?

We can account for evaluative expansion and inflation by citing three main reasons, which places evaluative practices at the confluence of three major impulses. The first is epistemic; the second axiological; the third economic.

An epistemic drive: we evaluate to satisfy the legitimate desire to know where we are, in relation to goals or objectives. From this first point of view, living without evaluating would be like moving forward in difficult terrain while keeping your eyes closed. Resorting to evaluation is beneficial here. This is the main and legitimate raison d’être of the evaluation of educational actions, like social actions.

An axiological drive: one evaluates to say the value, goods as well as people. Man is an animal who sees everything through scales of values, and who produces value by making judgments about things and beings: it’s good; it’s good. The ambiguity of the very term value warns of the perils that lie in wait for this activity of “envaluation”, that is to say of creation of value by means of a simple judgment . Unfounded, and unfair, attribution of value is arguably the greatest risk to academic assessment.

An economic drive: we evaluate to facilitate profit-producing mechanisms. We could say: to put oil in the cogs of a commercial operation, and to make the market economy work better.

The evaluation is used to direct the frenzy of consumption towards the best products, services, but also people (recruitment procedures). It is understandable why, in a context of “uberization” of the economy, wild and summary valuation practices are multiplying.

The proliferation of simplistic, even childish, evaluations in the current social field can thus be explained by the encounter between a totally unbridled economic drive and an axiological drive that no longer has any brakes or safeguards, while we neglects or forgets the epistemic requirement. And the best state of school evaluation, by the fact that an educator cannot afford to neglect the requirements of epistemic or ethical orders, under penalty of depriving his work of all meaning. Because educating requires!

This is the great lesson that school evaluation is entitled to send to all who claim to be evaluators.

Author Bio: Charles Hadji is Honorary Professor (Educational Sciences) at Université Grenoble Alpes (UGA)