Large-scale educational testing in Chile: Some thoughts

Recently in the auditorium of Universidad Finis Terrae, I argued that Chile’s Prueba de Selección Universitaria (PSU) cannot be “fixed” and should be scrapped. I do not, however, advocate the elimination of university entrance examinations but, rather, the creation of a fairer and more informative and transparent examination.

Chile’s pre-2002 system (PAA plus PCEs) may not have been well maintained. But, the basic structure of a general aptitude test strongly correlated with university-level work, along with highly focused content-based tests designed by each faculty is as close to an ideal university entrance system as one could hope for.

I have perused the decade-long history of the PSU, its funding, and the involvement of international organizations (World Bank, OECD) in shaping its character. Most striking is the pervasive involvement of economists in creating, implementing, and managing the test, and the corresponding lack of involvement of professionals trained in testing and measurement.

In the PSU, World Bank, and OECD documents, the economists advocate one year that the PSU be a high school exit examination (which should be correlated with the high school curriculum), then the next year that it be a university entrance examination (which should be correlated with university work), or that it is meant to monitor the implementation of the new curriculum, or that it is designed to increase opportunities for students from low socioeconomic backgrounds (in fact, it has been decreasing those opportunities). No test can possibly do all that the PSU advocates have promised it will do. The PSU has been sold as a test that can do anything you might like a test to do, and now does nothing well. It is time to bring in a team that genuinely understands how to build a test, and is willing to be open and transparent in all its dealings with the public.

The greatest danger posed by the dysfunctional PSU, I fear, is the bad reputation it gives all tests. Some in Chile have advocated eliminating the SIMCE, which, to my observation, is as well managed as the PSU is poorly managed. The SIMCE gathers information to be used in improving instruction. In theory, a school could be closed due to poor SIMCE scores, but not one ever has been. There are no consequences for students or teachers. Much information about the SIMCE is freely available and more becomes available every month; it is not the “black box” that the PSU is.

It would be a mistake to eliminate all testing because one is badly managed. We need assessments. It is easy to know what you are teaching; but, you can only know what students are learning if you assess.

Richard P. Phelps, US Fulbright Specialist at the Agencia de Calidad de la Educacion and Universidad Finis Terrae in Santiago, editor and co-author of Correcting Fallacies about Educational and Psychological Testing (American Psychological Association, 2008/2009)

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