Uruguay has always recognised the use of assessment as a process to improve teaching. For the past 4 years, Uruguay has been developing an education system based on an online learning assessment system for students in the 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th grades, in the subject areas of reading, mathematics, and sciences, leveraging the Ceibal Plan (which provides a computer for each child and teacher in the public education system, for their personal use, connected to the internet).
It is an education-based assessment, which provides teachers with a different perspective to complement their own assessments to analyse students’ progress. This online assessment system works with portals: one for teachers and another one for students. The teachers’ platform permits access to applicable tests for the grade that the teacher covers, and then applies these tests. Each test activity has accompanying theoretical materials that underpin the logic behind the assessments in each area. For each activity, these describe what is being assessed, and what hypotheses may be behind each of the incorrect answers that students could give. These materials serve to shed light on bases of and principles behind the test. Immediately after the assessment is conducted, the teacher can access the test and the results for use as tools in the classroom.
The platform permits both multiple choice questions and longer, constructed answer questions, which the teacher then marks in accordance with a marking scheme. There are plans to implement adaptive tests to replace single, monolithic assessments in 2013, whereby the system uses each student’s answers to suggest activities in line with their skills; innovation is a vital aspect in making progress towards personalising teaching.
This permits online assessments to become a permanent support resource to allow teachers to enhance continuing improvement in learning achievement. The latest online assessment was taken by over 189,000 students, representing more than 7 out of every 10 pupils enrolled from 3rd to 6th grade, with systematic assessments in reading, mathematics, and natural sciences. It is hoped that this system may be extended to other levels of education. More information at www.anep.edu.uy/sea
What would you highlight as your country’s key public policies in terms of education?
Uruguay is known for the early development of its education system, but capacity to increase secondary education completion rates has diminished over the past 20 years. For this reason, programmes are currently being implemented to support transition from the sixth grade of basic education into the first grade of secondary education (the Tránsito programme), and to enhance commitment to stay in the system in the third and fourth years of secondary (the Compromiso Educativo programme). Both of these programmes aim to reduce dropout rates and ensure that young people stay in school. Also, as Uruguay is the first country to provide a computer with an internet connection for each public school student and each teacher, the system is looking towards renewal.
Recently, Uruguay has just installed its National Institute of Education Assessment (Instituto Nacional de Evaluación Educativa), with the mission of assessing initial, primary, and secondary education. It is an autonomous, public, non-state organization that may be able to provide significant contributions for the Uruguayan education system in overcoming the fragmentation of the system’s institutional framework, and in making assessments more systematic and rigorous.
What do you see as the key contributions that the Third Regional Comparative and Explanatory Study (TERCE) can make to education policy in Uruguay?
Uruguay’s participation in TERCE is crucial, in order to obtain relevant information on the situation of Uruguayan primary education in the context of Latin America as a whole. It is hoped that the results of the study will provide us with up-to-date information on the situation of third and sixth grade students, allowing us to establish comparisons with the country’s results in the LLECE (Latin American Laboratory for Assessment of the Quality of Education) Second Regional Comparative and Explanatory Study (SERCE), thus observing changes over the course of time.
Although it is often said that education is getting worse, strictly speaking it is impossible to make any assertion without precise measurements of coverage, transition between education levels, and most of all, changes in learning achievements. Being able to repeat the previous analysis of 3rd and 6th grade students in 2013 will permit the determination of whether levels of learning achievement are improving or declining over time, giving a handle on assessing education policies implemented since the previous study. This will also be made possible through the analysis of data gathered from questionnaires on factors associated with learning, such as the questionnaires to be completed by school principals, teachers, students, and their parents, which will permit a greater understanding of the phenomena inside and outside of the school environment that can affect students’ performance. All of this information will make a fundamental contribution that can be fed into public policy design processes that aim to implement substantial improvements in our education system.
LLECE also represents an excellent opportunity to take an active role in regional discussions on ways to empower improvements in school learning achievements, to learn in collaboration with the other countries in the region, to enhance the capabilities of national teams involved in the field, and to provide them with training in new assessment approaches and techniques.
How do you believe that LLECE can contribute to the development of education assessment in Uruguay?
When Uruguay took part in SERCE, it formed a panel to track the 3rd grade sample, and this sample was re-assessed in the National Learning Assessment, when most of the students were in the 6th grade, in 2009. This year, the same group will be assessed once again, now that they have reached 9th grade. This panel, which was formulated as part of the country’s implementation of SERCE, plays a key role in studying the transition from primary to secondary education, and in analysing how learning achievements in earlier grades affect subsequent school careers as students pass through the education system. In the coming TERCE study, Uruguay plans to repeat this initiative of monitoring cohorts of students, but this time taking the 6th grade sample as a group to be interviewed again in the first, second, and third years of secondary education, surveying characteristics of their progress through education and paying particular attention to their reasons for dropping out of school, when they do.
Additionally, by taking part in these regional studies Uruguay is able to learn from other countries’ experiences, and our personnel can interact with professionals who are facing similar challenges in other countries. These opportunities give rise to ideas and exchange that fuel the development of the national education system.