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With high schools closed, France's key 'Bac' exam canceled

PARIS (AP) — For the first time in France's history, students won’t take the national end-of-high-school exam known as the Baccalaureat this year, amid school closures due to the coronavirus crisis. Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer made the announcement Friday. Many other countries in Europe have already decided to postpone exams.

The move upends everything for hundreds of thousands of French teenagers at a pivotal time in their lives. Students spend their scholastic careers preparing for the rigorous exams in June of their final year. They’re such a defining part of Frenchness that many adults list their “bac” results on their resumes.

Instead, this year students in the last year of high school will be able to get the qualification based on school grades before and possibly after the confinement period. French schools have been closed since March 16 and students and teachers had to shift to online learning. They won’t be able to reopen before May, if not later, Blanquer said.

A jury will examine their academic transcript to ensure fair conditions for all 740,000 students involved. The issue is sensitive in France, where the exam is a symbol of egalitarianism. Born in 1808 under Napoleon’s rule, the Baccalaureat is the main qualification required to pursue studies at university.

Even in wartime it was maintained, even though authorities sometimes had to reorganize or postpone it. It is also an important rite of passage: Results are released simultaneously for everyone, and national television spends the day capturing the tears of joy and disappointment as teens discover their results.

Unlike in the United States, many European systems have traditionally focused heavily on the end-of-school exam, while grades throughout the year have less meaning. Schools around the U.S. have canceled graduation ceremonies, depriving young people of all the memories associated with the caps, gowns, speeches and celebration.

Britain has canceled both the GCSE exams students take at 16 and the A-Levels that determine university admission. Schools have been asked to come up with predictions of what grades students would have got, based on past performance, classroom work and other factors. This has led to accusations of unfairness.

The Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bulgaria and Serbia have all postponed end-of-high-school exams. In Italy, Europe's worst-hit country, the government has not reached a final decision on the issue yet. In Germany, the Abitur exam is being maintained so far.

Follow AP news coverage of the coronavirus pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

AP journalists Angela Charlton in Paris; Jill Lawless in London; Amer Cohadzic in Sarajevo, Bosnia-Herzegovina; Colleen Barry in Milan; and Geir Moulson in Berlin contributed to this report.

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