Testing Craziness in Mexico

International Testing

By Hugo Aboites


Testing mania is sweeping Mexico as the government keeps imposing more tests as a condition for advancement in public secondary and higher education. However, these government initiatives have met strong resistance (Examiner, Fall 1996).


As a result of recent changes, a youngster who is completing lower secondary education (at around 15 years. old) usually must take a 120-item multiple-choice test (Exani-I) to determine eligibility for continued public education. In Mexico City, the test also is used to assign students to particular institutions and fields of study (general academic or vocational education). The exam is made by CENEVAL (Centro Nacional para la EvaluaciĆ³n de la EducaciĆ³n Superior), a private non-profit agency whose principles/owners are high officials in the federal Ministry of Education, public universities and private organizations.


A student who has finished `bachillerato' or upper secondary school (at around 18 years old) and wants to proceed into public higher education ("professional studies") must take another 120- item national test (Exani-II), also made by CENEVAL. Generally, test results are used to rank students and admit them until available places are filled. Professional studies is similar to U.S. undergraduate education, but in Mexico is always professional, so that one graduates as a lawyer, medical doctor, engineer, etc.


When the student successfully finishes his or her professional studies, still another national multiple-choice test, known as the General Exiting Exam (EGEL), also made by CENEVAL, this time consisting of 200-400 items, will determine in one weekend and in each field whether he or she has "professional quality." Tests exist for 24 different professions, including Engineering, Law, Psychology, Medicine, Accounting, Teaching, Nursing, and Veterinary.


If a student completes professional studies and decides to continue into graduate school, still another multiple-choice exam is required, the Exani-III. Finally, a new Federal Law on Professions will, if approved, mandate that practicing professionals must pass an exam every five years. These tests, too, will most likely be multiple-choice and administered by CENEVAL.


Currently, no law mandates the use of all these exams. Rather, the National Ministry of Education -- on which most of the schools and the higher education institutions in Mexico depend administratively or financially -- pressures, convinces or provides funding to persuade the institutions to use the exams. As a result, in a country which has fewer than two million students in higher education, CENEVAL tests around one million every year.


However, parents, students, and even universities that have some degree of autonomy oppose this testing craziness. The reasons? Up to 65 percent of those participating are assigned to institutions or studies they do not want by the upper secondary school entrance exam. At the same time, while graduates from a top public professional school have no problem proving their capacity under real conditions, as 93 percent of them immediately obtain a well-paid job in their field, only ten percent obtain the test-based certificate.


Thus, since 1996 movements of opposition to the tests have erupted practically every year. Thousands protested in the streets of Mexico City in 1996 as well as -- in lesser numbers -- in 1997. In 1998, the University Board ( the governing body) of one of the three most important universities in the country, the public Metropolitan University of Mexico City, rejected the proposed CENEVAL exit exam by an overwhelmingly negative vote. At the same time, many other universities are finding ways to postpone any discussion and decision about using the exit tests.


Finally this year, a massive student movement in protest against proposed hikes in tuition fees, which has kept the National University (UNAM) on strike since the end of April, included as one of its main demands the cutting of any links between the institution and CENEVAL. UNAM, which includes dozens of upper secondary schools as well as college and graduate-level programs, is the largest university in Latin America, with some 300,000 students at campuses throughout Mexico City.


Thanks to FairTest, many of the lessons learned during decades of testing and resistance in the U.S.A. now are of enormous help to the organizing efforts of academics, teachers, parents, students and educators' unions that are in the forefront of this battle for the right to education.


Dr. Aboites is Professor in the Dept. of Education and Communication, Autonomous Metropolitan University-Xochimilco, Mexico City, Mexico.