Article Index


Challenges of the pedagogical evaluation of student knowledge

By Lucie Mottier Lopez, Associate teacher

Photograph: © Institut Florimont

 LN 1407Evaluating knowledge is an integral part of the teaching process. To teach and then not to evaluate the knowledge of students would be to engage in self-deception. To teach and then not to subject oneself to self-evaluation would be extremely difficult, if not impossible. But what kind of evaluation are we talking about? As is well known, evaluation can be used to pressure students, intensify competition among students, and stir feelings of inferiority – evaluations can be exploited as an instrument for the selection and division of students into “winners” and “losers” within the scope of the school and the wider social construct as a whole.

In this section, we will explore the pedagogical evaluation of knowledge, that is – an evaluation of knowledge which, first and foremost, advances the proper organization of the instructional-educational process, and which is designed to support students by discovering their unique talents and skills. Such an evaluation demands tremendous professional experience on the part of teachers. It is also capable of serving as the foundation for an integrated learning process in which children study and evaluate their newfound knowledge independently, choosing self-discipline strategies along the way. This should help them to overcome difficulties and achieve progress.

Evaluations to the rescue of educators: the teacher or a teaching team doing the evaluation...
- prior to instruction, in order to assess the accumulated knowledge of students and their needs;
- in order to plan lessons and determine the assignments that students are to complete so as to develop adaptive study plans;
- during the instructional process, so as intervene in a timely manner in the actions of students, render them assistance, provide additional explanations, make decisions on joint work and engage students in discussion, organize group work, etc.;
- in order to determine the mistakes made by students and identify their underlying causes and motivating strategy, to establish the difficulties encountered by students and help them overcome these obstacles;
- at the end of the lesson, in order to determine how students have absorbed the material, summarize lesson results, and evaluate the knowledge gained by students;
-to plan subsequent lessons, meet with the parents, and create a new study plan;
- etc.

Evaluations to the rescue of the student(s): the teacher or a teaching team...
- assign students goals, express evaluation criteria, create a “scale” (evaluation system),
- give students a feedback tool (student suggestions and responses);
- adapt the teaching process to the needs of students by way of formal and informal evaluation;
- share information with students, urging them to move forward, overcome difficulties, and master new knowledge;
- use evaluation results to bolster student motivation, etc.;
- etc.

The student(s)are also encouraged to...
- engage in the self-evaluation process and evaluation of each other’s knowledge (in pairs);
- master the methods of knowledge-acquisition and usage of evaluation criteria;
- choose the most individually-suited work methods that best advance progress, note personal successes, ask themselves questions;
- use self-evaluation and teacher feedback in order to ponder fresh material and reinforce newfound knowledge;
- discuss with teachers the methods most likely to result in progress and, consequently, achieve the assigned goal;
- etc.

Evaluation, pedagogical practice, cognitive practice, instrument

The word “evaluation” has come to denote a number of different concepts:

- Evaluation – a pedagogical practice typified by a special language, a special manner of influence, and special instruments used in the given societal, group or cultural context.
- Evaluation – a cognitive reasoning process that exists in order to determine something’s value, using explicit (obvious) and implicit (subtle) criteria.
- Evaluation – both a grading instrument (evaluation = test, exam, written homework, etc.) and a self-evaluation instrument (evaluation table, standard form, etc.).

Goals of pedagogical evaluation

The main forms of knowledge evaluation were set back in the 1970s: formative and summary evaluation. European literature, published in the French language, offers a somewhat more expanded classification of evaluation. Evaluations can be diagnostic, formative, summary and prognostic (see Mottier Lopez, 2015). The dictionary of educational terms (Allal, 2008) provides the definition of the three primary instructional tasks which, while competing with one another, ensure proper regulation of the learning process.

• “Prognostic evaluation. Prognostic evaluation makes it possible to gather information about the decisions that should be made in order to ensure the best-possible transition of students to the next phase or course of study. (...)
Summary evaluation. Summary evaluation is essential to tallying results. It aids in evaluating the knowledge and skills gained by students at the end of the regularly-scheduled phase (i.e., at the end of the semester) or at the end of the outgoing term (i.e., at the end of the year, cycle, etc.) within the scope of the given study course. (...)
Formative evaluation. Formative evaluation assumes selection of the teaching methods best suited to ensuring the achievement of progress and attainment of set study goals.” (pg. 312)

Area literature published in the English language is defined by another emerging trend:
• Evaluation of newfound knowledge
• Evaluation for the purposes of further instruction
• Evaluation as a result of instruction



It is rather difficult to determine the interrelationships among the different evaluation methods. Suffice it to say that all types of evaluation must first and foremost ensure the proper organization of the educational-instructional process.

Selected, time-sensitive goals and tasks

The evaluation of student knowledge has been the primary concern of teachers since the beginning of the 20th century. The first studies of this issue were conducted within the scope of the scientific field of docimology. Area research resulted in the identification of systematic deviations from the set goal that hindered evaluating teachers from reaching the right conclusions on exams. In the modern world, despite newly-adopted teaching strategies (grading of anonymous tests (where possible), correction of mistakes immediately after the completion of exercises as opposed to completion of the entire assignment, double checking, etc.), the same factors continue to have an impact on knowledge evaluation (for instance, the influence of stereotypes on exam results).

To better understand the factors that impact the quality of the evaluations performed by teachers, the objectives of the studies were modified. Evaluations are no longer analyzed on the basis of measurement models as was the case in docimological studies. “Evaluating isn’t measuring.” Qualitative pedagogical evaluation relies on the expert judgement of the teacher – and on his professional surroundings. Evaluations must comport with the criteria of underlying professional norms and ethics – even when the teacher makes correction decisions to the advantage/disadvantage of the concerned students.

The vectors of development underpinning the dissemination of innovative practical-evaluation methods are highly varied:
- interaction between teacher and students in the evaluation of classroom learning, as well as interaction among teaching professionals in the interests of creating a shared culture of knowledge evaluation at specialized institutions/among institutions;
- informal classroom evaluation and quality of feedback in order to ensure support for students over the course of the study process;
- arrangement of connectivity between the entire material slated for study and individually-mastered parts, various evaluation methods;
- instruments of evaluation formation – evaluations aimed at further study integrated into the instructional process for the purposes of its regulation;
- engaging students in the self-evaluation process and assessment of one another (in pairs) for the purposes of encouraging self-regulation and autonomy in the study process;
- interaction among, and use of, evaluation methods proposed by different groups of teachers, and testing of developed methods;
- ...


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Allal, L. & Mottier Lopez, L. (2014). Teachers’ professional judgment in the context of collaborative assessment practice. In C. Wyatt-Smith, V. Klenowski & P. Colbert (Ed.), Designing Assessment for Quality Learning (pp. 151-165). London : Springer (The Enabling Power of Assessment).

Allal & L. Mottier Lopez (Ed.) (2007). Régulation des apprentissages en situation scolaire et en formation. Bruxelles : De Boeck.

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Antibi, A. (2003). La constante macabre ou comment a-t-on découragé des générations d'élèves. Toulouse : Math'Adore.

Black, P., Harrison, C., Lee, C., Marshall, B. & Wiliam, D. (2003). Assessment for Learning : Putting it into practice. Oxford, United Kingdom : Oxford University Press.

Bressoux, P. & Pansu, P. (2003). Quand les enseignants jugent leurs élèves. Paris : PUF.

Butera, F., C Buchs, C. & Darnon, C. (Ed.). (2011). L'évaluation une menace ? Paris : Presses Universitaires de France.

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Hadji, C. (2012). Faut-il avoir peur de l’évaluation ? Bruxelles : De Boeck.

Klenowski, V. & Wyatt-Smith, C. (2014). Assessment for education : standards, judgement and moderation. London : SAGE publications ltd.

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Mottier Lopez, L. (2015). Evaluations formative et certificative des apprentissages. Enjeux pour l'enseignement. Bruxelles : De Boeck.

Mottier Lopez, L. (2012). La régulation des apprentissages en classe. Bruxelles : De Boeck.

Mottier Lopez & M. Crahay (Ed.) (2009). Evaluation en tension. Entre la régulation des apprentissages et le pilotage des systèmes. Bruxelles : De Boeck.

Mottier Lopez & W. Tessaro (Ed.) (2016). Le jugement professionnel au cœur de l’évaluation et de la régulation des apprentissages. Berne : Peter Lang.

Noizet, G. & Caverni, J.-P. (1978). Psychologie de l’évaluation scolaire. Paris : Presses Universitaires de France.

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Stiggins, R. J. (2005). From formative assessment to assessment FOR learning : A path to success in standards-based schools. Phi Delta Kappan, 87 (4), 324-328.

Wiliam, D. (2011). Embedded formative assessment. Bloomington, IN : Solution Tree Press.

Video resources (in French):

“The evaluation of knowledge is, unfortunately, a daily process too seldom discussed in which practical understanding is insufficient. Teachers don’t discuss the topic amongst themselves, with each teacher guided by their own personal experience in the evaluation process. This is a misguided approach, since most classroom time winds up devoted not to teaching but to grading.”

“Evaluating to teach further works,” abbreviated course on self-instruction by François Muller.!une-evaluation-pour-les-apprentissages/c242w

“Evaluation is a delicate process – a subject that touches on the realm of emotions, a process that can be injurious, a contentious concept and a challenging task, a Pandora’s box, a hot potato ... So what does evaluation actually mean? It sometimes seems as though at issue is a frightening thing – I would even go so far as to say a kind of taboo that must go unmentioned, while in point of fact – it’s an instrument and not a thing in and of itself. A hammer can be used to create – and to destroy. The same can be said of evaluation.”

According to Marc-André Lalande, “Evaluation” is an advisor in the teaching of online courses at the Montreal School of Higher Commercial Studies.

“We all know that evaluation is an important task undertaken by all of the educational institutions in the world. That’s why it’s so important to synthesize our understanding of evaluation methods. Clearly, expanding practice in the area of formative evaluation encourages the advancement of the learning process itself.”

“Importance of Regulating the Evaluation Process;” a study program investigating the process of classroom learning and keys to success – Quebec Provincial Education.

“ ... certain aspects seem critical and must be taken into consideration if we want to understand how best to achieve success instead of viewing our accomplishments as the result of the unique attributes of individual personalities.”

“Why Must Evaluations Be Positive?” – Conference of Jean-Marc Monteil, Instructor and Former Rector of the Paris Conservatory of Arts and Crafts.

See also:

• Conference of Claire Bourguignon, Associate Professor at the University of Rouen: “Evaluating Student Knowledge: A Changing Paradigm?”

• Conference of Dominique Raulin, Director of the Regional Center for Pedagogical Documentation, Former Secretary General of the Federal Council on National Education Programs, 23 March 2012: “Evaluating Student Knowledge”