Big day in France today as the results of the nation-wide scholastic tests have just been published...publicly. In June, virtually all middle students, upon completion of troisième (3rd grade, equivalent to U.S. 9th grade), take an exam called le brevet, while the graduating class at lycée (high school) take the baccalauréat, or le bac. Now all of the results are in, and they are publicly available. Anyone can see who 'has' his or her brevet or bac, as one says in French, and whether they attained mentions (distinctions) such as assez bien (well-done), in a particular subject. You can walk up to the school and see the posted list, or apparently you can call the school, or go on the Education Ministry's site, or you can pay to see online, http://www.resultat-exam.fr/examen/resultat-brevet-des-colleges-dnb-professionnel-2013?utm_source=fb&utm_medium=newsfeed&utm_campaign=mmr
All of this is reflective of the distinctions between what is public and private in a given society, a subject I have thought about earlier (see Transparence, April 2013). In regards to scholastic outcomes, the French are relatively public about whether or not students succeed, even in the classroom where teachers announce grades out loud, whereas in the U.S. the trend has been towards greater privacy. Today, the old practice of posting university course grades outside one's office door, perhaps by student number rather than name is no longer allowed at most U.S. institutions, nor does one leave final exams lying in a box for students to rife through to find their own. It may be that we see test outcomes somewhat differently, or that we place different importance on them. In the U.S., school test results at any level, elementary, secondary, higher education, are largely seen as personal, or individual ones, reflecting a person's intelligence, test-taking ability, successful learning. Any results that are publicicized are only done so in aggregate form. And many, if not most, states do not require an exam before one can graduate. Perhaps in France the terminal exams and the publicizing of the exam results are important because maybe these are a way of publicly accounting for the national educational system's efforts? After all, everyone takes the same exams on the same days, and the results come out all at once, giving a quick result that the country-at-large can see. How well are French students doing, how well is the school system doing? In the U.S. on the other hand, each state has its own version of scholastic tests and its own standards, with few requiring school completion exams, so there is virtually no coordination across states. While the public may have a loose sense of how well the state educational systems are accomplishing their goals, they have an even vaguer sense of how we are doing on a national level. For that kind of accounting, we have to look for international comparisons of national educational systems, which is complex on its own for various reasons, and in addition, for the U.S., we have to somehow interpret results for a country with essentially 50 separate educational systems. In any case, I am certain that there are many personal celebrations going on among the 14/15 year olds, and more so among the 18 year olds in France today, just like there were a few weeks ago among U.S. high school graduates. For the French who are not celebrating, luckily there are second chances, as one can retake part of the exams in hopes of gaining enough points to attain le bac.