Mexico Chucks Test Bonuses, National Exam

A controversial, national student test is now history in Mexico. Accompanied by other federal officials, Education Secretary Emilio Chuayfett announced this week that the ENLACE exam will be discontinued, as well as the policy of financially compensating educators and students for good test results.  In a press conference, Chuayfett said ENLACE was plagued with improper and unethical applications, corrupt practices and questionable results.
“Academic evaluation or school achievement can’t ever be linked to (economic) incentives for teachers,” Chuayfett said. “School achievement should be carried out for accountability’s sake, in a transparent manner by means of instruments that are not linked to incentives for teachers, schools or students.”

Introduced during the final years of the administration of President Vicente Fox (2000-2006), the ENLACE test was given to more than three million elementary and secondary  school students. In 2012 alone, the cost of administering the test was calculated in the neighborhood of $18 million. During the course of ENLACE’s life, an estimated $400 million in test bonuses were paid to educators. Previously, 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation was based on student test performance.

Chuayfett charged that the monetary prizes dangled out to high-scoring classrooms cultivated a crop of irregular and corrupt practices including pre-test coaching or the outright disclosure of correct answers;  the exclusion of lower-level performing students from school days when the test was administered; and the post-test alteration of student answers.

The senior Pena Nieto administration official questioned the 2013 ENLACE results, pointing out that the lowest-performing states in the exam, Aguascalientes and Queretaro, are typically among the highest-achieving in the nation, while the top-ranked states-Chiapas, Guerrero and Campeche- come out poorly on other standardized tests.  Coinciding with other ENLACE critics, Chuayfett added that the yearly test had encouraged the neglect of regular classroom instruction in favor of teaching to the test.

The criticisms voiced by Mexico’s education secretary are increasingly familiar ones north of the border, where controversies and scandals have erupted in different cities and states over standardized testing and test bonuses for teachers.  Indeed, Chuayfett cited problems in the Chicago public schools in his remarks.

In El Paso, Texas,  a cheating scandal led to a 2012 prison sentence of more than three years for former El Paso Independent School District chief Lorenzo Garcia. The disgraced former administrator was also ordered to pay two large fines that included a $56,600 reimbursement, to cover the same amount of money he was paid for the apparently better test performance of El Paso students. As a result of the El Paso scandal, the Texas State House is expected to conduct hearings this year that will examine possible, similar problems across the Lone Star State.

Unlike the United States, however, no prosecutions will come out of the ENLACE controversy, Chuayfett pledged.  Declining to conclude that the test troubles had their origins in bad intentions, Chuayfett instead assessed the issue as based in wrong conceptions of testing. He said it was not known how many teachers had engaged in improper behavior.

ENLACE still has its defenders, most notably former 2012 presidential candidate Josefina Vazquez Mota. In a recent article, the onetime Calderon administration education secretary said the national exam could be improved upon without throwing it out.  “This is detectable and correctable,” Vazquez Mota said of the reported problems. “It’s not clear that the solution is to cancel the exam.”

According to Chuayfett, the National Institute for Educational Evaluation (INEE) will come up with a new test instrument to replace ENLACE in 2015. Meantime, Mexican students won’t have to take ENLACE this year.

INEE President Sylvia Schmelkes  concurred with Chuayfett’s  decision to cancel the ENLACE test.  In response to a reporter’s question,  Schmelkes conceded that previous federal administrations had ignored critics of tying teacher evaluations to student test performance.

“You can’t evaluate teachers based on the evaluation of their students,” Schmelkes said. “It’s one of the errors we committed, because what a child learns is dependent on many things.”

Sources: El Universal, February 5, 2014.  Article by Nurit Martinez Carballo. Tribuna de la Bahia/Agencia Reforma, February 4, 2014. Article by Sonia del Valle. La Jornada, February 4, 2014. Article by Karina Aviles. Proceso/Apro, February 3, 2014. El Paso Times, February 1, 2014. Article by Marty Schladen.   Education Week, October 16, 2012. Article by Jaclyn Zubrzycki.

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