In Spain we have a serious problem with exams. The new selectivity is not going to solve it

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A new reform of the Selectivity is coming. And it is that, according to Ignacio Zafra in El País A few days ago, the Ministry of Education is working on a change in the current Selectivity to go from “a less content-based test” to one “more similar to the Pisa Report exams.” The new model is yet to be defined, but it is already intuited that it will not be easy to find the ‘square of the circle’ of such a controversial issue. And it won’t be because the problem goes far beyond selectivity.


“There is no national debate about public evaluations in Spain,” he tells us Juan Ramon Barrada, professor at the University of Zaragoza. This is because these tests have to fulfill two basic functions “they must be reliable and valid; that is, they must have technical quality”, but they must also operate in a public environment, transmitting a sense of justice, equity and “social peace”. And “in Spain we have decided that the way we are we are doing well”.

It's not that the smart ones sit in the front rows, it's that sitting in the front makes them get good grades.

In fact, it is curious that taking into account the large number of selective tests with very important consequences that exist in the country and “the continuous scandals of rigged oppositions”, the controversy always arises around Selectivity, Barrada tells us. Especially considering that “there are no buses of students going from one community to another to get better grades.” Are there inequalities? It is reasonable to think so because there is no element that guarantees that there will not be. “As there are none [para garantizar el mismo nivel] between some years and others”. There is a recurring political debate, it is undeniable; “what doesn’t seem to be genuine concern“.

In the end, the effects of these inequalities between communities tend to be diluted because, as Barrada suggests, “the main criterion for choosing a university for students in Spain is that it be close to home”. That is also why the successive reforms of selectivity end up being blurred because “although there are technical means” to improve the quality of the tests”, when those responsible understand the resources required to get it up and running (and what it entails) often close the issue falsely. Something similar can be said of the rest of the selective tests.

A problem that affects all Spanish public evaluations

Akshay Chauhan Rvuwnowckne Unsplash

“I don’t want to say that evaluation isn’t a problem, it’s more of a big problem,” says Barrada. “We have many people dedicating years of work and enthusiasm without knowing if they will have any return [] That is indisputable”. “What I want to convey is that the solutions are not simple”: a “global and multidisciplinary” approach is needed that takes into account the costs (social, economic and personal) of the system.

For example, the current selectivity proposal “is to replace content tests with something similar to an intelligence test.” This type of approach, for PISA (“which tries to compare very different educational systems”) may make sense; it is clear and objective, but “avoid evaluating many things”. In addition, we must take into account that each form of evaluation has its specific consequences: “it is not sensible to approach these problems from indignation, but rather it must be approached from a systemic perspective”. After all, by defining what and how we measure, we are defining what we want to achieve.

Yes as recognized by the same Ministry, the current design of the EVAU conditions not only the baccalaureate, but a good part of the secondary school, this effect is seen much more in the oppositions. What economists Manuel Bagües and Berta Esteve-Volart explained“in the Judge and Prosecutor oppositions, 42% of the opponents present themselves for at least the fifth time and, in the Notaries oppositions, which are held biennially, 12% of the candidates have been presenting themselves for at least ten years”.

Under the guise of a system that “limits the possibilities of favoritism, and also allows us to measure whether the opponent has certain specific knowledge about the State and Public Administrations” we find a mechanism “incapable of accurately evaluating the quality of the candidates “. These repeat over and over again because “because they perceive that with a bit of luck they could finally get the opposition approved.”

AND to the extent that it has been “empirically documented that factors as far removed from the quality of the candidates as the order, day, or time in which they are evaluated, or the composition of the evaluating panel, significantly affect their chances of success” they do not lack reason. This is something that clashes with what we know about good selection systems and that, as far as we know, doesn’t happen elsewhere (where candidates can get a quick idea of ​​whether or not they have a chance of passing the test) and that, in fact, does not affect Spanish Euro-civil servants who access the European institutions.

Are we evaluating things meaningfully?

Nguyen Dang Hoang Nhu Qdgtqoyk6b8 Unsplash

Bagüés and Esteve-Volart also question “the relationship between the dimensions that are evaluated – in general, memory capacity – and the productivity of future officials”. Similarly, it is not clear to what extent the dimensions that are evaluated in selectivity correlate with subsequent performance in each race. This is, according to Barrada, the weakest link in the Spanish public evaluation system: the moment when someone takes the arbitrariness with which the testing criteria are defined that have incredibly important consequences in people’s lives.

In most cases, “it is not so much about finding the right candidate, but about obtaining a system that generates social peace“. In the end, as Barrada points out, we end up articulating evaluation systems that, as drunk joke looking for the keys near the lamppost not because they have lost them there, but because it is where there is light.

“We need that national debate on evaluations,” concludes Barrada. “But we need it to be a real debate” and not fodder for the political brawl of the day. In this sense, the new selectivity proposal suffers from the same problems as the rest: it is based on a problem that we don’t seem willing to take seriously.

A new reform of the Selectivity is coming. And it is that, according to Ignacio Zafra in El País A…

A new reform of the Selectivity is coming. And it is that, according to Ignacio Zafra in El País A…

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