Reality Check: Was Your High Schooler Taught Skills to Compete in the ‘Global Economy?’ Sit Down … Take a Deep Breath or a Shot of Whiskey… a Peek at the French National Brevet Exam for ALL Ninth Graders

In a few weeks, at the end of the U.S. school equivalent of ninth grade, in June, all students enrolled in the French National education system worldwide are required to sit for the National Brevet Diploma Exam to demonstrate academic competencies in order to continue to the next grade, which would be ‘Seconde’ – the equivalent to the U.S. tenth grade level.

Students have two chances to pass, a fail generally requires repeating the ninth grade for another attempt. Students who pass continue study for three more years towards the Baccalaureate which is given at the end of the U.S. equivalent of 12th grade and is meant for entry to university.

A number of students pass the Brevet and simply graduate at age 15-16 with the Brevet Diploma, leaving school for work or trade schools, better equipped in math, reading and writing required for quality trade skills than their American counterparts who graduate  with a high school diploma two-three years later at age 18.

The Brevet is a required end of ninth grade exam, but exceeds most American high school senior requirements. Most countries in Europe have a very similar structure and expectations by grade for their students, so even though the French Brevet is used as an example, it reflects what is typical across Europe. French-speaking students, enrolled in certified French education systems in Africa and Asia all sit for the Brevet. It is administered in a manner similar to the SAT, everyone takes it on the same days, at designated testing venues, but unlike the SAT it is not optional and it’s not a computerized exam. Teams of teachers grade the Brevet exams of other schools; they are not permitted to grade their own students.

Students worldwide have just completed a practice exam, called the ‘white Brevet’ or ‘Brevet blanc,’ and have a few more weeks before the actual 2012 Brevet. It’s a two day exam, covering rhetoric (writing, reading, essay and grammar), history and math. There are no multiple choice or true/false questions, all answers are written out.  That’s written, as in cursive, which is being dropped out of many US public schools as the excuse goes … ‘irrelevent’ to modern life.  Calculators are allowed for the math section, but they are no substitutes for compasses, which most American students have never even held in their hands in 12 years of schooling, much less learned how to use to reproduce a complex geometric figure or simply demonstrate how to perfectly bisect an angle, something that the typical student outside the USA learns before 5th grade.

Above, the graphic shows a typical pair of geometry problems at the Brevet level. The English translation was added. The French have one standard for students, no ‘low’ ‘middle’ or ‘advanced’ separations as American schools have done. French and European students are competitive in math with Chinese and Japanese students, yet without the stressed, unbalanced, over-studying cram lifestyle that is such a problem in Asia.

Typical history/geo/social-studies questions of the Brevet (choose one):

1) What were the political entities which formed the Popular Front? What were the principal measures announced by Leon Blum? What types of obstacles did the Popular Front encounter?  Using the information in the documents provided and the information you know, write an argumentative paragraph of at least twenty lines discussing the successes and also the political fragility of the Popular Front.

2) What were the two great changes made by Mikhail Gorbachev to reform the Russian society? Define these in a precise manner. In what manner did these changes affect the political situation in Czechoslovakia? What were the changes going on in the Soviet block at the end of the 1980s? Which were the consequences of this revolution for the political career of Mikhail Gorbechev and for the USSR?
Drawing from the information in these documents and what you know, write an argumentative paragraph of twenty lines describing the end of the Soviet block from 1985 to 1991.

Language/Rhetoric composition: Brevet Level

Jules was great friends with a soldier in the French army. His nephew decides to write about his uncle including how these two people met. Write, in the point of view of the nephew, a narrative of the encounter of these two characters.” Grading criteria: Complexity of ideas, the paragraphs are well organized, use the proper verb tenses (employ the correct usages of the verb tenses: imperfect, composite past or simple past), spelling, grammar and punctuation.

Source: Hachette 3eme Livre 2007

Regarding Math instruction:
The teacher, who has a demonstrated competency certificate in math, introduces a new concept to the class. He/she then explains and demonstrates the problem on the board, followed by a short lecture so the students write the lecture points into their notebooks, which are tightly supervised to be extremely structured and thus serve as excellent study guides. The remainder of the class is spent by students practicing working the problems at the board or in their notebooks under the supervision of the teacher. The teacher may assign a couple of extra problems for homework, requiring only a few minutes at home. No computers in the classroom, no teaching assistants, no ‘smart boards.’ The teacher grades all exams and checks all notebooks for neatness and completeness. Exams are not multiple-choice and require the frequent use of compasses, rulers, right angles, protractors … and erasers. The typical class size in better schools locally is 25-30 students, all handled by the teacher, no assistants.

Answers to the geometry problems in the graphic above:
#4: requires usage of the Pythagorean Theorem and the Theorem of Thales.
The Section A’B’C’D’ is thus a square with the length of a side x = (25√94) ÷ 47  cm

#5. Circumference C corresponds to the length of the circle 2(pi)R.  C = 2(pi) x 6370 = 12,740(pi) or about 40,024 km  … then  x =( 40 024 x 33) ÷360  thus length of the arc AB is 3669 km.

If your freshman, sophomore, junior or senior high school graduate cannot solve these problems or is not able to answer or write out responses appropriate to the history or rhetoric questions, then he or she, despite enormous amounts of financing to our schools,  did not receive training in a level of math, history and rhetoric required as national standards in most other developed countries at ninth grade … delivered at less cost, shorter school days, and far less homework.  The proposed national CORE standards double down on worthless, seemingly constructed by political ideologues who prefer to perpetuate ignorance in the classroom and ignorance of the reality outside our borders.  Our schools love to talk ‘globally competitive’ but don’t actually teach the nuts and bolts skills required for it: readin’, ritin’ and ‘rithmetic.  We haven’t even touched on foreign language requirements outside the Brevet … the students taking the Brevet are also required in 9th grade to study English plus another language such as Spanish or German.

And when was the last time our own school history textbooks put on their covers our victorious, liberatin’ American G.I Joe soldiers with guns getting hugged by appreciative, pretty French babes?  Our young teenage American male was quite surprised to see his textbook for 2011-2012.  History suddenly was a bit more interesting.

Source: Hachette Education 3eme, Source: Plan Brevet Maths 3eme Editions Magnard