Several weeks ago, I attended two events in Quito, which presented the results of “Ser Estudiante” and “Ser Bachillerato”, two standardized exams that serve to measure student learning in Ecuador. “Ser Estudiante” evaluates boys and girls in 4th, 5th, and 10th grade of Basic General Education in Ecuador, while “Ser Bachillerato” is administered at the conclusion of the last grade of secondary school. In the presentations, I saw many interested reporters and a lot of enthusiasm from the attendees. In fact, this is the first time Ecuador has aggregated data this extensive and reliable of student learning for almost every educational level (the only one missing is the first grade of primary school).
The day after the release of the results, I checked – early in the morning – for press coverage in hope to find lots of data, debates, and discussions in newspapers, the radio, and television. I expected to hear the subject being brought up in office hallways and on the street. Truthfully, I was certain that it would have a strong impact, perhaps not like the Brazil World Cup —as I discussed in my previous blog entry —but similar to that of the release of the results of national and international studies in other countries.
Next, I embarked on an Internet search, which resulted in a mere 10 articles reporting some figures about the results of the student learning studies. None provided an in-depth analysis and only few encouraged public debate. The sole message the press communicated was that the results of “Ser Bachillerato” improved in comparison with those of previous years, in spite of the fact that the data made available to the public allow for disaggregation by subject, area, gender, type of school, among others, as shown in the press release of the National Institute of Evaluation (INEVAL).
What should we make of this? Are Ecuadorians not interested in education quality? This is absolutely impossible! Instead, the first element that could form part of the explication for this phenomenon is that in Ecuador, like in many other countries of the region, we are still not used to rely on objective and standardized data to evaluate the quality of education services. For example, in Ecuador, the issue of student assignment to each public school at the beginning of the school year will create much more debate in the next few days than the analysis of the results of the national learning assessments and their policy implications. While it is important that students are assigned to the nearest school or to the school that their siblings attend, this won’t be nearly as relevant for their future academic performance, for their professional development, and for the country’s economic growth as their test scores.
A second element to take into account is that, in the case of Ecuador (as of many other countries), public policies and government institutions are a step ahead of the media, the public opinion, and even of important parts of the education system.
Therefore, it seems fundamental to combine – in the right proportions – the following 3 ingredients, to be able to spice up the education debate and come up with balanced policy options that allow to enhance the quality of education in the country:
- Produce more and reliable data. The Ecuadorian system for the measurement and evaluation of education quality can become a model for other countries of the region, due to both the unprecedented pace of its creation, and the scope and rigorousness of its methodology. As a result, subsequent national and international tests will produce more data (results of the Third Regional Comparative and Explanatory Study in December 2014 and of PISA in 2016).
- Publish disaggregated data to promote its analysis. In fact, by promoting open access to the data(while still ensuring confidentiality), the sources for analysis amplify. Individuals, ranging from independent researchers to university academics—both national and international—will be able to use this data and contribute to enrich the analysis of public education institutions.
- Produce instruments to facilitate the engagement of civil society. Education system authorities need to disseminate the information resulting from the assessments in user-friendly formats and reach education system stakeholders (school directors, teachers, etc.), as well as the media and the general public.
To contribute to this last component, the IDB will soon organize —in conjunction with the National Institute of Educational Evaluation and the Ministry of Education—an exchange of experiences with Brazil in order to identify how the central government, states, municipalities, and civil society use the results of national examinations to promote discussions and debates, to improve education policies and, ultimately, improve education quality.