You might like to think you are unbiased but the reality is we are all full of biases.
The Macabre Constant is a theorised bias in educational assessment that happens when a teacher unconsciously splits students into three subjective categories – good, average and poor regardless of their actual objective academic level.
Splitting students into top, middle and bottom is something I think every teacher is guilty of. Think you don’t? Well, the chances are you have catered for a higher ability when setting a test by including trickier questions rather than seeing how the knowledge and skills you had taught had been retained.
This creates an artificial failure of students, carried out by the adjustment of tests to filter to these groups rather than testing knowledge and skills.
The Macabre Constant was first proposed by the educational researcher André Antibi in 1988 who said,
Imagine an excellent teacher with excellent students: in this context all notes should be good … but it does not matter. If all the notes were good, the teacher would be suspected of laxity. The constant macabre is this constant percentage of students who must be in a situation of failure so that our evaluation system is credible.
Under pressure from society, Antibi says teachers feel obliged, to seem credible, to assign a certain proportion of bad grades, a “constant macabre”. Antibi says if we take five classes, select the top 5 students in each class and group them in a new class and we will then group them good, average and bad.
In a survey of teachers and professors, 95% admitted that they felt obliged to establish a certain percentage of ‘bad’ grades which ends up making some pupils lose confidence in themselves, and even discouraged these students entirely.
So, in France more than 50,000 teachers have set up the evaluation by contract of trust (EPCC), with their students which consists in verifying whether they have acquired the requisite knowledge.