ANTHROPOLOGY OF EVALUATION: THE ‘MACABRE CONSTANT’

Pierre Frath

Abstract


The author suggests, arguing from the work of Antibi (2003) that there is an inherent bias in assessment, the macabre constant. It is argued that there is a tendency for markers to create categories of assessment and balance the numbers between these irrespective of pupils / students’ actual performance.

Teachers know that if all their students have good grades on a regular basis they will be considered too ‘nice’; conversely, if they consistently give marks below average, they will be considered too “strict”. A ‘good’ assessment thus divides the class into three groups: the ‘good’, the ‘average’ and the ‘bad’. Some students will certainly move to an adjacent group, but the ternary structure will remain. About a third of students are thus condemned to failure regardless of educational conditions: whatever the level of the class, the quality of teaching, the subjects taught, failure will happen.

No proposal has so far succeeded in really improving the situation: failure remains. The reason is that all evaluations are finally caught up by the macabre constant. For a significant change to really take place, it is argued that the process of assessment must take account of the central role of the macabre constant.


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