Monday, April 19, 2010

Educational Reform

The news will seem familiar to Americans. In 2008, President Sarkozy announced with great fanfare that there would be no more "social promotions" in French schools. Students were to be tested for proficiency at the end of their primary schooling to assess their fitness to move on to the collège, or junior high school, level. The first CM2 evaluations since the reform are now in, and students have done slightly worse in French and slightly better in math than in pre-reform testing. And of course the nearly one-fourth of students who are doing less well than they should be will continue to suffer as they move on to higher grades. Of course no one would have expected huge improvements in just two years, but from these results it's not even clear that the reforms are moving in the right direction. And who knows whether the problem is with the tests, the curriculum, the teaching, the condition of the schools, or the home environment of failing students. These data won't tell us, but the Institut Montaigne promises a fuller report on May 4.


MYOS said...

It's another thing that got me scratching my head. (I'm still trying to figure out what to do about the zero-training teachers planned for next year. I mean, even TFA kids get some kind of intensive training over the summer...)
Based on personal experience, last year, the kids took the tests for 6th grade readiness... in January - including the items supposedly covered February-June.
In addition, the test took place over 4 days (45mn each day of the week). If a student was absent one day, their whole test set couldn't be scored, and there had to be a percentage of scores (= present all 4 days) for each class for the class scores to be validated. So the teachers were told (in at least one district, then, but probably more since in France it all comes from the top) ... if the kids are usually good students, score it as if they got everything right that day, and if they're usual low-scorers, score it as if they got everything wrong that day. Just so there'd be no bug and score-invalidating-absences wouldn't bug the evaluation and it'd all appear legit (in January, between stomach flu, lice, and regular colds, *many* students end up missing 1-2 days during the exams.)
I thus look at these results with great skepticism.
In addition, it's a totally half-baked idea, since as you point out there's no way of interpreting the data in order to know what to work on.
If you like school rankings, the lycée rankings are in. Much was said about the fact Louis le Grand and Henri-IV did not rank high at all - if the ranking was based on "value added" (based on socio economic background and previous results, x% students should pass their bac, but in reality the lycée manages to help z% pass - difference between z and x= value added, or in many cases, substracted.) Since Henri IV only takes the best students nationally, basically all from the Parisian upper class, the students' actual score and their projected score are pretty much the same, hence, low ranking. Another reason why they don't rank very high is that they kick out loads of students who don't perform at the level they want them to (that's part of the ranking too: how many students entered 10th grade but got relocated elsewhere during the year or at the end of that year.)
Of course parents only look at the raw data, i.e., what percentage passed the bac?
All the criteria allow for magazines to publish a wide variety of different rankings, hence making their readers willing to buy several.

MYOS said...

ha ah, U knew I'd find that lycée thing somewhere, and here we go:
from the radio -
from la Tribune:
With this semi-useful article: "how to cheat"
L'express has different rankings

MYOS said...

What's interesting is how France and the US describe their best high schools - what they look for.
There seems to be so much more energy, creativity and diversity in the way American schools are described - not sure whether that reflects reality.. What do you think?

Passerby said...

% of students who pass the bac is indeed a criteria that some parents look at. Eventhough their just the result of the selection process of the school.

I'm not sure, it's always a wise choice. A friend of mine was always first in collège, so his parents decided to put him into a 99.9% lycée.
He totally collapsed under the pressure in the new school.
He didn't even made it to university. Confronting yourself to the best can be a bitter experience.
In his case, I think it's a waste..

MYOS said...

One problem is that the "best" in French terms are just the best at taking tests round the clock: from 8 am till 6pm, the kids are in class - there are a few clubs here and there meeting during the lunch hour, but that's it. No competitive sports (not for reals - they meet on Wednesday afternoon and absolutely *no one* knows who plays and against which teams. A friend of mine had a kid on a volleyball team (I think) that won the national championship and... all there was about it was a handbill, B/W, posted on the cafeteria door. Apparently, the teachers didn't even know (and scolded them for missing class on the days they were gone.)