1 December 2023

This interview appears in “The World of Education”. If you subscribe to Le Monde, you can subscribe to this weekly letter by following this link.

What are the invisible biases that influence the rating? Why is France so attached to grades, the importance of which is increasingly strong in high school, under a baccalaureate now assessed at 40% through continuous assessment? Pierre Merle, a sociologist specializing in education issues, is the author of the book School assessment practices. History, difficulties, prospects (PUF, 2018).

Terminale students will soon have access to their baccalaureate specialty notes, which will count in Parcoursup. Does the fact that two marks from the baccalaureate count for orientation in higher education seem fair to you? What are the possible biases?

Parcoursup already took into account the average grades of students in first and last year, obtained as part of continuous assessment. The specialty notes organized with the anonymity of the students are now added. The fact that more notes are taken into account is an improvement. However, the real question is that of the relevance and reliability of these notes.

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To think about the justice of orientation, we must distinguish between two types of evaluations, those which are made by the teachers, within the framework of the high school, and those which are anonymous, within the framework of the examination. For anonymously corrected copies, the main bias is the order in which they are corrected. It has a significant effect on the note. When a corrector corrects a very good paper, the next one is, by contrast, marked more severely. And vice versa. After correcting a weak copy, the next one is graded more leniently.

A teacher is also not consistent in his practice. He tends to grade more harshly at the end of his pack of copies. Wear, fatigue, nervousness to always see the same mistakes can work against the candidate. The laboratory experiment is that of the mathematics teacher who, in a packet of 100 typewritten copies, corrects the same copy twice, the first at the beginning and the second at the end of the packet. The same copy is graded differently. This evaluation hazard is incompressible. However, the more tests that take part in the assessment, the more this hazard is randomly distributed between the different tests, which makes it possible to arrive at an overall relevant assessment of the student’s skills.

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