Incoming sixth-graders getting ready to start school in February got a pleasant surprise this week: Public Education Minister Leonardo Garnier announced that starting this year, the students will no longer be required to take national tests in order to graduate.
Instead, the exams – now worth 60% of the overall score educators use to determine whether a sixth-grader gets promoted, with the remaining 40% coming from their average grades – will be given to a randomly selected group of students each year with the sole purpose of giving the ministry data about what students are learning.
Garnier, who made the announcement during President Oscar Arias’ Cabinet meeting, held Wednesday in Alajuelita, a mountain town south of San José, said the National Council for Superior Education made the decision this week after studying the issue. The minister said his visits to schools last year and conversations with teachers and students showed him that because preparation for, and execution of, the standardized tests varied wildly from school to school, they required a huge investment of time and money without providing reliable results.
Also, because students’ classroom grades were worth only 40% of their yearend score, students and teachers alike were neglecting the sixth-grade curriculum in favor of drilling on test content, Garnier said.
Results from the test given to a random sampling of students will be used to identify students’ weaknesses and design teacher training courses, according to a statement from the ministry.
Public school students also take mandatory graduation tests, called exámenes de bachillerato, at the end of high school. Though these exams are controversial and teachers’ unions have called on the ministry to eliminate them, Garnier has expressed no plans to do so.