Another pandemic political row marked by political polarisation has broken out – this time related to the use of standardised testing in the education system.
After a year without classroom education due to the pandemic, reports emerged this week saying that the national government has decided to suspend for the year the Aprender tests, which evaluate the impact of educational policies nationwide.
Education Minister Nicolás Trotta, however, denied any such suspension this week and rejected claims from the opposition that the government was seeking to “conceal” a crisis caused by school closures related to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Trotta’s Education Ministry informed the provinces last Tuesday that it would not be doing the Aprender tests, postponing the evaluation of the learning processes of primary and secondary students until next year when greater classroom presence is expected.
Buenos Aires City Education Minister Soledad Acuña slammed that decision, tweeting that “discontinuing [these tests] would be an error.”
Trotta responded that “Acuña must have misunderstood or be imposing her own forced interpretation.”
The tests “will be held as part of a more complete toolbox for evaluating the educational system … in these times of profound alteration of all the coordinates for organising schoolwork,” replied the minister.
Acuña was joined by her boss, City Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, and ex-president Mauricio Macri in criticising the suspension of the Aprender tests for a second successive year.
Rodríguez Larreta released a communiqué maintaining that to suspend the Aprender tests “is to deny the possibility of understanding reality and knowing where we have to work to improve it,” adding that “every country which improved its education has done so on the basis of a profound knowledge of its educational reality.”
The City Mayor also used the occasion to revive his favourite hobbyhorse of the importance of classroom schooling, while continuing: “But it is not sufficient – we have to improve the quality of learning and teaching and the only way of doing that is knowing where we are.”
Macri took the field via Twitter to deplore the decision.
“We continue to go downhill. Now the government has decided to suspend the Aprender tests, a fundamental tool for diagnosing the real state of education and being able to resolve the problems of millions of students,” he wrote.
Macri went on to accuse the government of “trying to hide the crisis produced by school closure, just as they did in the past with inflation and poverty.”
He concluded: “No solution lies in concealment.”
Consulted by Perfil, Torcuato Di Tella University professor Mariano Narodowski, a predecessor of Acuña and a member of Argentinos por la Educación, considered this decision to be “typical” and said that the “grieta rift” should be “set aside.”
“The Aprender tests have run since 1993, with even the Alliance doing them annually and Kirchnerismo (between 2003 and 2015) doing them every two, then three years, while Macri restored them to being annual. But last year the Federal Education Council unanimously decided not to carry them out,” informed Narodowski, offering some context for the decision.
The ex-minister commented that it would be desirable for the Aprender tests “to have a stipulated frequency instead of constantly changing,”adding that it would be prudent to see “what the technical reason is for not doing them this year and whether it is reasonable."
“Since 2002 every government has improvised and that does not seem professional to me,” he indicated.
Meanwhile the Education Ministry explained that it was developing a 2021-2022 National Evaluation Plan including a variety of approaches, strategies, components and instruments to permit the evaluation of different aspects of schooling, especially in the exceptional context of the pandemic.
“This year’s evaluations will be on the basis of samples because that is the methodologically correct thing to do with the intermittent classroom presence according to the epidemiological indicators,” justified Trotta.
According to the information supplied by the portfolio, the plan “provides for the application of standardised evaluations like the Aprender tests but also taking others which are more efficient for capturing the complexity of the processes under evaluation.”
Some days previously Trotta had estimated that last year “almost 10 percent of students or almost a million had few or no links with their schools,” a figure Narodowski believes to be the projection of monitoring alongside the provinces, while there will be no data for 2020-2021 until next year.
Finally, Trotta asked for “consistency” from the opposition while blasting the previous Macri presidency for its own education policies.
“The most important thing from the results of the evaluations is what we are to do not only to face up to the pandemic but also four years of educational underfunding under the Macri government, whose leaders stay mum while they cut the educational budget by a third, discontinued the Conectar Igualdad programme and only built 174 of the 3,000 kindergartens they had promised.”
The minister also posted a graph made by the government on Twitter indicating that investment in education, as a percentage of GDP, fell by 33 percent between 2016 and 2019, the final three years of the Macri administration’s term in office.