The common and excellence at school in the United States and between justice and efficiency?

Education

The United States and Great Britain have organized their educational systems based on standards, making it possible to reformulate knowledge in terms of skills. Under the influence of the United States and within the framework of international harmonization, the International Association for Educational Achievement (IEA) and the OECD will participate in the definition and assessment of key skills.

2Comparative studies between countries began in the 1960s and concerned student performance in core subjects and basic skills. The orientation defined is to improve the quality of education, which became preponderant in the educational policies of the United States from the 1980s and was to spread to other countries through the OECD, the American report A Nation at Risk , which initiated it, will prepare the reform of standards. Great Britain organizes a school market based on standards (law of 1988) with in particular the creation of League tilemaking it possible to evaluate the performance of schools on the basis of tests, which enables parents to better choose the school in which their children will be educated. The OECD, Unesco and the European Commission with EUROSTAT are going to design indicators for comparing educational policies in order to be able to send recommendations to member countries to improve quality. Performance indicators, standardized tests, comparison tables will become the most widely used tools to assess the quality of education. Surveys like PISA will then collect data on the basic skills of children, adolescents and adults in different countries, in order to compare them.

3We are going to examine how the question of the common and of excellence at school has been dealt with in the United States, then how the reformulation of knowledge in terms of standards and skills in the United States and Great Britain has influenced international bodies and the European Commission. In what way was there an equivalence of notions (common culture, base of skills, standards of skills, quality of education) with different meanings and issues and how did we manage to present the common base? as a compromise between justice and efficiency?

The orientation of school assessment in the double movement of the common base and excellence in the United States
4The organization of the education system in the United States being rather singular, a short presentation is in order. Traditionally, the federal Department of Education has not had significant influence over state and district school policies. School policies and the financing of the school system are heterogeneous due to the fact that it is the States and especially the districts (local authorities) that make the decisions. It is therefore very difficult for the Federal Ministry of Education to standardize curricula and teaching practices on a national scale. Nevertheless, since the 1980s, it has tried to get states and districts to put in place a minimum set of skills for all students. Sometimes, he manages to impose certain decisions on the legislative level, federal laws to be applied at all administrative levels. This is particularly the case with the law on bilingual education of 1968 and all the judgments of the Supreme Court which condition this education as well as “racial desegregation” in schools. Several districts have also been prosecuted and dragged before the Supreme Court for not having respected this legislation which must be taken up by all the States, while any law passed at the local level must be in conformity with federal laws. However, the scope of this legislation emanating from the Federal Ministry of Education remains very general and aims above all to guarantee a certain equity between the children of minorities, refugees and populations who do not have a sufficient command of English.

5States are responsible for defining the core competencies to be achieved, and to some extent, the curricula, but school districts can apply them as they see fit. In each state, a Department of Education is chaired by a Commissioner appointed by the State School Board or Board of Education whose members have been elected by voters from all school districts in the state. the state.

6While the districts numbered around 150,000 at the start of the 20th century , there are nearly 15,000 today. They are really the ones who are in charge of the school system: they elect the local education commissions, decide on the taxation of their constituents to finance and ensure the functioning of the local education system, and set minimum salaries for the all school staff. A teaching committee, chaired by a School Superintendent, decides on the educational policy of the district. Its members are elected by their fellow citizens. It is this commission that determines the amount of taxes to be levied to pay school staff and maintain the schools and ensures that the directions of the schools in the district are in accordance with the school policies of the State. Thus, if the federal level funds the school system up to 6%, most states generally support half of the funding and each district the rest. Nevertheless, the financing of city centers poses a problem in many States because of their often very disadvantaged social composition. Two conceptions of student assessment have been present in the United States since the beginning of the 20th century .century. The first is democratic and massive, the second is meritocratic and elitist. The reconciliation between upward social mobility through school, the reproduction of classes through school and social exclusion through the knowledge that is valued there is recurrent (Brint & Karabel, 1991).

7The standards represent what the students must achieve, but they can differ according to the States, the latter not having the obligation to follow the federal recommendations, being directly responsible for their education system. Moreover, the level of the students is far from being the same in all the schools and even within a school, because it is the results noted in the commercial tests chosen by the teachers which orient the students, the American system being deprived of examinations to sanction and thus distribute the pupils in the secondary schools and in the higher education. At the federal level,Ivy League ).

8Thus, the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) have been the two main student assessment tools promoted at the federal level, but the meaning given to their use has varied over the history and by state.

9While the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) was at its inception (1926) a tool to promote equal opportunity through meritocracy, it was gradually valued as a means of fostering the reproduction of social elites. Note that the SAT is a business test taken by high school students to rank potential students by university. Only 15% of universities recruit their students based on the results of this test, but these are the most prestigious ( Ivy League ). In the mid-1990s, some of these universities, such as Princeton, began to use other selection criteria making the SAT less influential, but not discarding it.

10In the 1930s, a reflection on the forms of curriculum and learning evaluation took place. Influenced by R. Tyler, an American student assessment system, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) faces resistance from states that do not want assessment at the federal level in order to preserve their autonomy in matters of educational policy. The idea of ​​establishing the NAEP dates back to the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. Currently it is known as the Nation’s Report Card . It aims to set up assessments of the basic knowledge acquired by students in the main disciplines: English, mathematics, science, history-geography.

The Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT)
11The history of the SAT is linked to that of American universities. Following the creation of the Office of University Entrance Examinations in 1900 aimed at selecting students by a single examination with an international perspective for private universities, it became necessary to set up a rapid, economical evaluation system and standardized. Robert Yerkes, a professor at Harvard University, administers an IQ test to recruits during the First World War in order to objectively select candidates for officer positions: this test aims to choose the most intelligent individuals outside social, economic or cultural variables.

12This test was adapted to high school students in 1926 by becoming the SAT, a MCQ aimed at standardizing the curricula by standardizing the methods of selection. In 1932, Brigham recognized that the SAT is not intended to measure biological qualities inherent in ethnicity (Lemann, 1999). Throughout the 20th century , ethnicity will be inseparable from the interpretation of the results obtained. The same year, James Bryant Conant, President of Harvard University, is looking for a way to select scholarship students. By the late 1930s, the SAT was used to award scholarships from all Ivy League universities .

13Following a clash between the American Council of Education , which represents public universities opposed to the use of the SAT, and the College Entrance Examination Board , used by Ivy League colleges who want college entrance to be standardized by the SAT, the Educational Testing Service (ETS), a private testing agency, was created in 1948: the SAT was then institutionalized. Two great figures of the Ivy League, Henry Chauncey and J.-B. Conant became president and branch manager respectively. ETS uses other tests and conquers the public university market thanks to its non-profit status: the clients are the universities, but the payers are the students ($23 for the SAT 1 and $6 for the SAT 2 in 2000). California is the first state to adopt the SAT and thus becomes the biggest customer of ETS.

14J.-B. Conant wanted to use the SAT to identify “intelligent” individuals in American society in order to open the doors of power to regenerate the ruling elites. It is a question of tearing people with talents from their collective conditions in order to prepare them to govern. Two political currents confront each other on this question during the 19th century.century: the federalists (Washington, Hamilton, etc.), who consider that wealth is proof of human worth and that the richest should concentrate political and economic power; and the Republicans (Jefferson, Jackson…), for whom any individual can have leadership talents, education for all being a characteristic of the democratic ideology to renew the political and economic elites (Mills, 1951).

15J.-B. Conant is part of the republican tradition (of which the “democrats” of today are the heirs), but also in the context which follows the economic crisis of 1929 where it is a question of renewing the elites which are marred by speculation, overproduction and corruption. He objects to the great West Coast universities being used for social reproduction purposes by the descendants of the WASPs, the Puritan settlers. He believes in equal opportunities and wants to open up universities to underprivileged social strata by providing them with scholarships. The SAT would therefore be the ideal tool to technically produce this equality of opportunity.

16While in 1940 only a quarter of the American population graduated from high school, the SAT can still be thought of as a tool for selecting elites destined to continue their education in higher education, but high school graduates represent 80% of the population. in 2000. The SAT then becomes the obligatory step for economic and social success in the most highly rated universities. However, it promotes not equality of opportunity, but social reproduction because access to higher education is linked to the high cost of studies and because it is more high school students from privileged social backgrounds who take it. It does not measure pure intelligence, disconnected from culture, but favors certain social groups and certain ethnic communities. The SAT 2 benefits even more the higher social categories by offering students the possibility of being evaluated in their disciplines of excellence, which allows them to distinguish themselves by building up a personalized academic portfolio which is sometimes required by certain prestigious universities. Cultural and social capital is therefore an essential prerequisite for anticipating a university career. The unequal success and the choice not to take the SAT among ethnic “minorities” are due in particular to socio-economic origin, social, cultural and residential segregation, but also to the stigma of inferiority of young people belonging to certain disadvantaged social or ethnic groups (Fisher & Hout, 1996). which allows them to distinguish themselves by building a personalized academic portfolio that is sometimes required by some prestigious universities. Cultural and social capital is therefore an essential prerequisite for anticipating a university career. The unequal success and the choice not to take the SAT among ethnic “minorities” are due in particular to socio-economic origin, social, cultural and residential segregation, but also to the stigma of inferiority of young people belonging to certain disadvantaged social or ethnic groups (Fisher & Hout, 1996). which allows them to distinguish themselves by building a personalized academic portfolio that is sometimes required by some prestigious universities. Cultural and social capital is therefore an essential prerequisite for anticipating a university career. The unequal success and the choice not to take the SAT among ethnic “minorities” are due in particular to socio-economic origin, social, cultural and residential segregation, but also to the stigma of inferiority of young people belonging to certain disadvantaged social or ethnic groups (Fisher & Hout, 1996).

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17The American university market is characterized above all by the high cost of studies, which favors on the one hand university enrollment strategies for students based on their economic capital, and on the other hand a weighting of the cost of enrollment by universities by offering scholarships based on criteria depending on their position in the university hierarchy (Goastellec, 2003, p. 482). The influence of many variables on the results of the SAT, however, calls into question its use and promotes the search for palliative solutions.

18Before the SAT, most of the students who managed to get into the best universities came mainly from the best high schools. Its use as an aptitude test for any school has been justified to identify good students from disadvantaged backgrounds in order to place them in better tracks or higher quality schools. But the SAT is not free and public, not all good students from difficult neighborhoods are identified by the tests and certain perverse effects, such as the alignment of teaching practices with testing, will contribute to reducing the actual curriculum and the expected results. This has led since the mid-1990s to its importance being relativized, including in certain Ivy League universities which also use other selection criteria, such as student averages, their social and ethnic origins or their specific talents (like music or the canvas). Moreover, more and more universities are accepting the application of their future students during their last year of high school: these students do not see any interest in paying to take the SAT when they already have a positive response to continue their education in higher education.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)
19In 1966, a well-known survey, Equality of Educational Opportunity Survey (EEOS), led by Coleman, indicates that the differences that exist at the entrance to school are found at the end of school. Thus, it appears that children from ethnic minorities who enter school with major educational difficulties (as measured by standardization tests) end their schooling with even more difficulties. The academic success of pupils is therefore dependent on the social and ethnic origin of the pupils. Furthermore, it shows that students with high aptitude are preferentially found in certain schools and therefore that variations in the quality of schools are not linked to variations in the academic success of students. Thereby, the American school would not have the power to reduce the differences relating to the social and cultural origins of the pupils. Three years after the publication of the Coleman report, the NAEP – currently theNation’s Report Card – is set up to collect as complete and objective data as possible on the educational path of American students. The NAEP was founded by the Office for Educational Research and Improvement of the United States Department of Education. It was first administered by the States Education Commission and later by the Education Statistics Commission. Its use in the various States has not always been widely followed, but it has strongly influenced the tests set up internationally, in particular with the OECD.

20Since 1969, the NAEP has assessed the national samples of pupils aged 9, 13 and 17 and since 1983 according to the level and age of the pupils. In addition, groups of students between the ages of 26 and 35 were periodically evaluated. The disciplines concerned are reading, writing, mathematics, science and social sciences, but also literature, art, music, citizenship, computer knowledge, history and geography. The results take into account group ethnic differences and use a list of school-specific variables, but they are not always related to the subgroups within them.

21In 1988, Congress created the National Evaluation Governing Board (NAGB). It is this board that develops NAEP policy, selects areas to be assessed, determines assessment instruments, their use, and analyzes of data. The council is also responsible for choosing the indicators to be used in the national assessment: they should be free from racial, cultural, gender or regional biases (Mullis & Jenkins, 1990).

22The NAEP is not always used at the state level, even if its federal dimension has given it an image that needs to be qualified as it is more organized than in reality. It has been used by politicians at the federal level, especially in international forums and abroad to make the American school system appear in a more positive way. However, it makes it possible to present a map of disparities at a fairly global level, by comparing states and identifying disadvantaged school areas. It gives indications of comparison between schools on the assimilation of basic knowledge and on the way in which this knowledge improves over time. In particular, it showed that a small percentage of students from disadvantaged social backgrounds reached the basic level of the NAEP.

23The NAEP is based on a greater or lesser agreement depending on the state, between education administrators, parents of students, teachers’ unions, to identify students in disadvantaged neighborhoods with good academic abilities, in order to place them in schools of a higher standard, without touching the curriculum. This allows students to be “sorted” because there is no exam during compulsory schooling in the United States. Its impact is above all a matter of federal rhetoric, because although it was used to guide education policies in the 1980s, it did not really contribute to modifying curricula and their content.

24While federal curriculum policy is mandated by the Constitution, it is the states that are responsible for school systems, but also the districts that receive delegation from the states. There are therefore as many curricula based on standards to be achieved as there are States, even if the fundamentals are found almost everywhere. The federal government can influence pedagogy and programs, propose performance standards and ways to achieve them, take sanctions against schools that fail to do so (since the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 ), financially support works produced by groups and private lobbies of an academic nature, guide research when it supports them with federal funds, but it cannot impose anything on the States.

25The desire to preserve the sense of community in towns and regions is found at school level, where school councils participate in this reinforcement of the shared community dimension: parents pay for the school and want to have control over both how their money is spent and the results through commercial testing (private and paid). Indeed, for the citizens of each American state, it is more the tests developed by their state that are important and more specifically the commercial tests used by the teachers of each school. These tests usually start in the third year, but sometimes as early as the first year, and determine the stream that the students will follow thereafter. The latter are thus classified according to the curricula and oriented very early in different levels. The marks resulting from these tests put in place by the teachers will determine the orientation of the pupils, giving them, for example, the possibility of following a more rigorous curriculum than others, or allowing them to go to schools where the level is higher, to skip a class and go to university earlier. It is therefore multiple assessments throughout compulsory schooling that will classify students to enter prestigious universities, usually private, or other less rated universities, most often public. The NAEP therefore does not have the same importance for families because it does not assign an individual grade to each student.

26Even if the NAEP was not used as much by the American states as the federal government would have liked, the latter had less difficulty in promoting it to the OECD in the 1970s. Indeed, during this period , the OECD is setting up a reflection on the advisability of using international comparison tools, but also to collect data on the level of skills of students in addition to the national assessments of the IEA. The NAEP will therefore influence international comparisons of results. Thus, the NAEP score scales were transposed to PISA (Gipps & Murphy, 1994).

A Nation at Risk (1983) and No Child Left Behind (2001): common ground and excellence in the United States
27In the United States, two texts seem to guide school evaluation in the double movement of the common base ( back to basics ) and excellence: A Nation at Risk (April 1983) and Public Law 107-110 of January 8, 2002 , also called No child Left Behind Act of 2001 . The Republicans who are at the origin of these laws want to remove the compensatory policies put in place by the Democrats aimed at disadvantaged social and cultural groups, by returning to a minimum common base (knowing how to read, write and count) while rehabilitating the excellence in forming American elites. It is then a question of investing in the Back to basicsfor all, this serving both as a common base for those who will not go any further and as a base for those who aspire to excellence. However, recently, the rigidity of the No Child Left Behind program has been called into question in view of the complexity of the situations, starting with the autonomy of the States and the districts which often manifest other expectations in terms of educational policy.

28The report “ A Nation at Risk (US Department of Education, 1983), supported by President Reagan, presents itself as a desire to awaken the American nation in its relationship to academic knowledge in the face of international competition, by giving a chance to all students, regardless of their social or economic backgrounds. It aims to improve the quality of education at all levels to promote the progress of American society, but emphasizes the educational and financial cost that this entails. It will raise public awareness of educational issues and initiate a movement for closer control of the education system, its institutions and its personnel. Following its publication, reforms will follow based on indicators relating to financing, organization, enrollment and educational outcomes. International investigations will be carried out by the IEA and theInternational Assessment of Educational Progress (IAEP) to measure student achievement in subjects such as math and science. In 1984, on his wall map, the Secretary of Education could compare the performance of different states in education. This pushes the Council of Chief State School Officers to develop a series of indicators and to create a Center for the evaluation of teaching in the States. In 1985, the National Research Councilrecommended that data collection and statistical reporting be reorganized under a federal agency with greater powers. In 1987, the United States government declared itself in favor of a transnational project on educational indicators. A project on international education indicators was then launched under the responsibility of the OECD. At the same time, with the Hawkins-Stafford Act of 1988, Congress supported the development of national indicators, federal-state cooperation in data collection, and the expansion of the NAEP to make comparisons between states. In 1989, the National Forum of Education Statisticsis created to improve national statistics, while Congress appoints a group of experts and policy makers to report on the quality of data and suggest improvements (Burstein, Oakes, & Guiton, 1990).

29No Child Left Behind (NCLB) is also a reform driven by the Republicans and is therefore presented as a continuation of the policy of ” A Nation at Risk “. The accompanying 2002-2007 plan (US Department of Education, 2002) aims above all to improve elementary and secondary education in the United States. Its objective is to make education more efficient without leaving a student “by the wayside”. It encourages a change in perceptions of education, its values ​​and its claims, in particular those which consider that children from minorities or disadvantaged classes cannot learn at school. It is part of a desire to improve both basic education and access to post-secondary studies, while giving schools, teachers and parents more leeway, for example by helping schools whose results are poor at taking measures such as tutoring, classes after class and by providing parents with information presented as “clear and objective”. In fact,NCLBwas designed to justify educational reforms aimed at reducing the problems of school failure by thinking that it was enough for teachers to be more rigorous and organize themselves to change the results. Sanctions have been set for schools where students perform poorly. Recently, federal policy has become more nuanced in this area by taking into account the complexity of the school system and that it could not simply be a question of the good or bad will of teachers. Between the federal intentions regarding national education policy and the realities of the various districts at the local level, there are significant differences. Furthermore, the parents who can choose where to send their children to school generally do not belong to working-class backgrounds,NCLBfavored a hierarchy of schools according to their results and the social level and cultural affiliation of the pupils who attend them. Nevertheless, the objective of equal opportunities has not been abandoned since funding reaches some of the schools in disadvantaged neighborhoods. But from the moment when it is the results of the schools which are taken into account, the subsidies can go to other schools according to the principles of competition. Faced with the lack of resources, many States must make choices about the allocation of resources for schools in difficulty, so even if the subsidies were limited to schools in disadvantaged neighborhoods, only some of them could benefit from them. On the other hand, when districts are allowed to have their own expectations, whatever the projects or planning at the federal level, inequalities remain. Some states like Alabama are very poor and therefore spend much less than others, like New York or Pennsylvania. In the latter, it would be possible to target aid to very poor schools, whereas in the former, it should concern the majority of schools in certain districts. Furthermore, the influence of standards is not the same from one state to another and they are often different: for example, in some states, religion, in its dogmatic aspect, is included in the curriculum as knowledge basic, whereas it is not taught in other states. Some states like Alabama are very poor and therefore spend much less than others, like New York or Pennsylvania. In the latter, it would be possible to target aid to very poor schools, whereas in the former, it should concern the majority of schools in certain districts. Furthermore, the influence of standards is not the same from one state to another and they are often different: for example, in some states, religion, in its dogmatic aspect, is included in the curriculum as knowledge basic, whereas it is not taught in other states. Some states like Alabama are very poor and therefore spend much less than others, like New York or Pennsylvania. In the latter, it would be possible to target aid to very poor schools, whereas in the former, it should concern the majority of schools in certain districts. Furthermore, the influence of standards is not the same from one state to another and they are often different: for example, in some states, religion, in its dogmatic aspect, is included in the curriculum as knowledge basic, whereas it is not taught in other states. they should cover the majority of schools in some districts. Furthermore, the influence of standards is not the same from one state to another and they are often different: for example, in some states, religion, in its dogmatic aspect, is included in the curriculum as knowledge basic, whereas it is not taught in other states. they should cover the majority of schools in some districts. Furthermore, the influence of standards is not the same from one state to another and they are often different: for example, in some states, religion, in its dogmatic aspect, is included in the curriculum as knowledge basic, whereas it is not taught in other states.

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30The theme of quality in education became preponderant in the educational policies of the United States from the 1980s and was to spread to other countries through the OECD. The report A Nation at Risk which is at the initiative will prepare the reform of the standards by putting the actors of the school under pressure in the perspective of obtaining better academic results for the pupils. Under American influence, the OECD is developing education indicators to compare the quality and performance of different education systems on an international level. The development and comparison of standards at the national and international levels aim to link quality to the measurement of performance.

Basic standards and skills: Anglo-Saxon influences in Europe
31The term ‘standard’ was first used in education around 1860 in England, in connection with a law that provided for the budgeting of primary schools to be based on academic achievement. Six levels (Aldrich, 2000) of performance in reading, writing and numeracy were set, respectively, against which school inspectors were to classify pupils. The results-related cost planning system was abolished in England at the beginning of the 20th century , but until today the notion of standard has played a central role in the country’s educational policies (Goldstein & Heath, 2000) . Since the end of the 1980s, education reform has aimed to establish national curricula and to assess learning outcomes (assessments ). One of the priority aims of English education policy is to ‘raise standards’, ie to improve the level of actual performance in schools. The standards are therefore not interpreted as norms, but as the average level of performance achieved by students. The Education Reform Act of 1988 established a market in school education (Le Grand & Bartlett, 1993). School reforms were oriented in a spirit of liberalism, which resulted in the creation of League tablesaimed at showing the performance of schools through tests and examinations, with targets to be achieved. Parents can then choose the school in which their children will attend. Various programs are in place: national study, tests, measurement of test and examination results. The Office for Standards in Education (Ofsted), established in 1992, has the main task of measuring the quality of education in schools. The latter then find themselves in competition. The National Curriculum consists of nationally assessed key learning outcomes with tests for 7, 11 and 14 year olds. 11-year-old English, math and science test results are released along with League tablesschools, the results of examinations at the end of compulsory education ( General Certificate of Secondary Education ) and secondary school ( General Certificate of Education Advanced levels ). They provide parents with information on the choice of secondary schools, but are also used by Ofsted, which assesses the quality of schools. The socialist government of 1997 did not change the school market (West & Pennell, 2003), but specified the objectives to be achieved with a view to increasing the level of pupils (Treasury, 2002).

32This concept of standard, centered on effective services and not on reference standards, was also taken up by the OECD in its publication ” School and Quality in 1989. At the end of the 1980s, one could already detect a fairly uniform tendency at the international level to pilot the education system based on academic results. At the same time, the central importance of the school itself as a place for the development of quality was underlined. Indeed, in the 1980s and 1990s, many countries carried out reforms along these lines. The concept of standard has played a primordial role here and, until today – except in Great Britain – it is the interpretation in the sense of a norm that has prevailed. Standards are therefore understood internationally as normative models for the management of education systems.

33Nevertheless, depending on the history of the countries and the cultures that compose them, the questions relating to the standards may differ. Do the standards relate to the processes of school learning (such as school equipment, teaching design, teacher qualifications) or to school results? Are standards formulated at the level of the general objectives of education and the targeted values, more or less specific skills in the various fields, objectives and content of learning (“ content standards ”), or values test where the standard can be marked on the scale of scores (” performance standards “) by a threshold (” cut-off point )? What target level do we specify: a basic level that must be reached by (almost) all students (minimum standard), an ideal (maximum standard), or an average level of requirement? Training standards would be linked to results. They are aimed at specific skills in the different subjects, but can be stretched “up” or “down” in a way. They are oriented according to the general objectives of education and can in principle be transposed into tests and test scales. Different skill levels can be distinguished and among these, a specific skill level can be set as a minimum standard. Regarding these questions, various principles have been adopted. Sometimes, several types of standards coexist,

34The rise of interest in key skills in Europe has been influenced by the United States through the IEA and the OECD, which have been heavily involved in their definition and assessment. The orientation defined was to improve the results of the pupils while limiting the expenses. Comparative studies between countries began in the 1960s and concern student performance in core subjects and basic skills.

35The term competence is originally (Romainville, 2000) used in the context of vocational training in reference to the ability to perform a particular task. In the 1980s, its use was generalized in general education and referred to a certain “capacity” or “potential” to act effectively in a specific context. It is no longer the knowledge itself that is important, but the use that is made of it. The construction of skills allows individuals to mobilize, apply and integrate the knowledge acquired in diverse, complex and unpredictable situations. The definition adopted by the OECD indicates that in all disciplines, “competence is generally interpreted as a specialized system of abilities, skills or know-how necessary or sufficient to achieve a specific objective” (OECD, 2001). The Council of Europe considers competence(s) “as the general aptitude based on the knowledge, experience, values ​​and dispositions that a person has developed through his or her practice of education” (Council of the Europa, 1997).

36There is a consensus in Europe: proficiency in reading, writing and arithmetic is a necessary but insufficient condition for a successful adult life. These skills can be seen as the starting point for all further learning, but they are only one part of that area of ​​basic skills generally referred to as ‘literacy’ and ‘numeracy’. The report on the concrete future objectives of education and training systems states: “Ensuring that all citizens are proficient in reading, writing and arithmetic is essential to ensure the quality of education and training; this elementary education conditions all subsequent learning skills and employability” (European Commission, 2001). In Europe, while lifelong learning is increasingly seen as an individual responsibility, States believe that society must remain the guarantor of the fundamentals and provide younger generations with the necessary background in terms of basic skills. Certain nuances appear with regard to their acquisition at school during the period of compulsory education, but also outside of school, which would amount to integrating certain socio-cultural knowledge into the common base of knowledge.

37In Europe, shifts have taken place around the idea of ​​equality, from equality of opportunity to equality of results. Two types of interpretation of the common base or basic skills coexist: that which is collective, or what are the basic skills to be integrated during the school period so that knowledge can then be diversified? And the one that consists of moving from a unit based on common values ​​to a more liberal conception to move towards a universe in networks where you have to know how to circulate and be flexible. The establishment of standards testifies to a strengthening of the link between economic imperatives and education.

38The relationship between a guaranteed basic level for all and a desire to develop everyone’s talents to their maximum level is found both in the United States and in Europe. This is also the case of the at least partial failure of measures aimed at countering – or at least limiting – the transformation of social and cultural inequalities into educational inequalities, as well as the desire to transform an unrealistic equality of opportunity into a equality of results based on assessments which would make it possible to better objectify the different school contexts. In the United States, the local district and regional state levels reflect differently and considerably attenuate the effects of educational policies taken at the federal level. In Europe, decentralization is already under way and,Official Bulletin are often translated differently in the local contexts of the establishments. The evaluation of teachers and student achievements is a question that comes up regularly in France as elsewhere. It results from the pressures of European harmonization in terms of professional standards (to allow greater mobility of those involved in education), from the evolution of education policies which grant more autonomy to local actors (establishments and local authorities) and the resulting reporting obligations.

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