Publish at March 13 2016 Updated April 07 2022

Grading: necessary or outdated?

The age-old debate about grades resurfaced in France in 2015

The delicate task of leading future generations to the status of educated citizens is a task surrounded by judgments of all kinds. Some believe in a more progressive view of education, others are more conservative.

A situation that leads to friction on certain topics, particularly that of assessment. The subject is paramount since it is the way the school system judges the knowledge and skills of the student. The way to know if he is mature to continue or if he has to start again a part of his school career.

An old debate resurfaces

And if there is a debate that rages on evaluation, it is the one about grades. In France, in the last year, this one started again when the Ministry of National Education presented at the end of September 2015 a text on student evaluation that would begin at the start of the 2016 school year. Immediately, rumors about the disappearance of grades out of 20 appeared although the ministry tried to deny them.

Finally, the project would the cohabitation of grades and a system of evaluation of knowledge and skills of the common base in 5 areas:

  • languages for thinking and communicating,
  • methods and tools for learning,
  • the formation of the person and the citizen,
  • natural and technical systems and
  • representations of the world and human activity.

Teachers will position students on a scale of four degrees of mastery (insufficient, fragile, satisfactory and very good).

But while grades are not going away and are not about to, it was too late. Pandora's box had been reopened, and with it, the two camps of assessment were back to fighting.

Two visions of the numerical grade

First, there are those who see the end of grades as a leveling down approach, a way to ignore the difficulties of French students. For these individuals, it would be the equivalent of the doctor getting rid of a thermometer because it shows a fever.

Because it must be said, the grades show in a much more brutal way the gaps in understanding and mastery between students. Between the 18, 16, and 15 out of 20 and those with 10, 8, or 5, the margin is wide. Yet it shows, according to grade proponents, who needs help and lacks the required skills.

In the opposing camp, on the contrary, proponents of a grade-free assessment denounce the current system as exacerbating the sense of failure that many students experience. Especially since it has been shown that grades are often influenced by a student's behavior, socioeconomic background, etc.

André Antibi had moreover demonstrated a macabre constant in numerical evaluations. Indeed, no matter the environment, the level of the students and the subject of the exam, there will always be approximately the same proportion of bad marks. And then, it must be said, evaluation by grades was already losing ground even before the ministerial proposal.

Different evaluation methods

A competency-based approach was already in place in several French schools. A rather benevolent method in which the teacher no longer grades, for example, a French composition in general but on each aspect of it (following instructions, spelling, conjugation, etc.).

This type of assessment is closer to reality since a student may very well follow the instructions of an essay and have good syntax, but possess a poor vocabulary. Consequently, the method is clear for the teacher, but also for the parent and the student who can see the elements that need to be improved and those that have been mastered. There would also be much less stress and discouragement related to assessments.

There are many other ways to assess. Some assess students with smiley faces, others with color codes or simply letters that are a little less harsh than numbers. While graded assessment exists in countries other than France, the approaches are quite different and, as this article notes, there is more collaboration among teachers to establish a consistent and fair scale.

The population agrees...

The Ministry of National Education revealed in the wake of its announcement on the evaluation that a poll - internal, let's be clear - said that 75% of the French are in favor of this reform.

Well, so much the better, one would be tempted to say, but all of these changes that aren't really changes and the debate that has returned to the media are the tree that hides the forest. For this professor of education from Grenoble, all this faux-debate hides the fact that there are urgent work streams to be done in student assessment. At the end of his paper, he discusses concrete worksites that should be implemented:

  • on analytical rubrics to accurately assess competencies,
  • on the search for truly informative report cards for all and
  • on the search for evaluative procedures that are "fear-free" for the student.

This could be a constructive approach to building the school assessment of tomorrow.

Illustration: Matt Benoit, Shutterstock


Battaglia, Mattea. "The End Of Grades Is Not Really For Tomorrow." Le Last updated September 29, 2015.

Chesnel, Sandrine. "With Or Without Grades: How Student Assessment Will Change." Last updated September 28, 2015.

Chesnel, Sandrine. "DOCUMENT. A Report Card Without Grades, What Does It Look Like?" Last updated December 12, 2014.

Chesnel, Sandrine. "Smileys, Color Code: How Teachers Are (Already) Grading Without Grades." Last updated June 24, 2014.

Clavel, Geoffroy. "Assessment At School: 75% Of French Favour The Reform, According To A Ministry Poll." The Huffington Post. Last updated September 30, 2015.

Hadji, Charles. "Getting Out Of The False Debate Over Grades In School." The Conversation. Last updated October 8, 2015.

Millot, Ondine and Véronique Soulé. "Les Notes à L'école Ont-elles Encore Un Sens?" Libé Last updated December 11, 2014.

Peiron, Denis. "L'école Tourne Le Dos Aux Notes... Sans Les Interdire." La Croix. Last updated September 30, 2015.

Peiron, Denis. "How The School Grades Its Students From One Country to Another." La Croix. Last updated September 30, 2015.

"Why The Abolition Of Grades Out Of 20 And The New Evaluation System Wanted By The National Education Is Not The Solution?" Last updated: January 9, 2016.

"Well, Here Comes The Debate Over School Grades Again." Libé Last updated September 17, 2015.

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