Students, Minister in Test Tussle

June 6, 2008

High school students butted heads with Education Minister Leonardo Garnier over whether to cut a series of national exams required for graduation.

Garnier didn’t blink.

After a nearly three-hour meeting with 12 students late last month, Garnier refused to eliminate or shorten the November exams, known as the bachillerato. The students say they are unprepared for the tests because a 25-day teacher strike in April led schools across the nation to cancel classes.

The students also oppose the tests, they said, because the questions measure memorization skills rather than actual learning.

“We spend all these years working hard, and at the end of the day, we might not graduate because of these tests,” said high school student Alexander Astorga, who says he wants to study computer engineering in college.

The six three-hour exams test knowledge of math, science, civics, social studies, Spanish and a foreign language. Together with grades from the previous two years, they determine whether a student graduates from high school. About 37 percent of students failed at least one test in November, although they were able to retake the exams in April.

If Garnier won’t eliminate the exams, he should at least reduce their importance, say the students. The exams carry 60 percent weight in determining whether a student graduates, while performance in 10th and 11th grades make up the remaining 40 percent.

The students want to switch those figures so that the tests weigh 40 percent. Garnier said he would suggest the idea to the Superior Education Council. But, he added, changing the rules midyear could be unfair to students who are banking on the current ratios.

Eliminating the bachillerato completely was not an option, he said, as the tests are crucial because they reveal whether a school, district or group of students is performing badly. Plus, he said, “If there weren’t a final test, neither students nor teachers would feel any pressure to maintain a minimum level of quality.”

Still, Garnier made some concessions. He has asked directors at each high school to work with teachers and students to draft plans on how to make up classes canceled during the strike. He offered to show these plans to the 12 students, who represent the Fighting High Schoolers Committee, which claims to draw support from 30 high schools, mostly in the metropolitan area.

The ministry, he said, will also draft a brochure about the tests, explaining what skills the tests measure, how to appeal a score and options for those who fail.

Esteban Camacho, a student at the meeting with Garnier, said the committee’s “bases”would meet to discuss Garnier’s concessions.

“We knew (Garnier) wasn’t going to accept most of our proposals,” he said. “We’re glad he sat down to meet with us.”

On May 2, a protest against the exams devolved into vandalism. Students broke windows and damaged doors at the Rofas building in San José, where Garnier works, according to the daily La Nación. Astorga said students at the meeting with Garnier were not involved in the damage, and do not condone it.

In recent years, the Superior Education Council has eliminated national tests required to graduate from sixth and ninth grades. The bachillerato was discontinued in 1974 to appease teachers’ unions, but reinstated in 1988.

 

You may be interested

5 questions for US painter Suzahn King
Weekend Arts Spotlight
99 views
Weekend Arts Spotlight
99 views

5 questions for US painter Suzahn King

Elizabeth Lang - May 20, 2018

Suzahn King's paintings, known for their intricate details, are currently focused on her surroundings in Costa Rica, a country she…

Jean Marc Calvet, part III: Leaving Marco behind
Artists
271 views
Artists
271 views

Jean Marc Calvet, part III: Leaving Marco behind

Elizabeth Lang - May 18, 2018

This is the story of Nicaraguan-based French artist Jean Marc Calvet: a man whose complex life, obscurities and misfortunes overwhelmed…

Traditional masks
Tico Times Pic of the Day
286 views
Tico Times Pic of the Day
286 views

Traditional masks

The Tico Times - May 18, 2018

Creating masks out of balsa wood, carved by their own hands and based on the their community's traditions, the Brunca…