Alto al SIMCE—The Campaign Against High-Stakes Tests

For the past five years we have been sharing lessons on resistance to neoliberal education policies with the Alto al SIMCE [“Stop the SIMCE,” Chile’s high-stakes, standardized test] campaign. Through occasional face-to-face meetings, joint conference presentations, and visits between our two spaces, we have built an important relationship of solidarity and learning. We sat down with Javier Campos, one of the founders of Alto al SIMCE to summarize their work for our blog readers. This is the first of two parts of our conversation.

“Let’s not continue to destroy public education.”

R&P: What is the SIMCE?

J:  The SIMCE is a multiple choice, standardized test that measures “curricular coverage,” given to students in 8 different grades, once a year. It is a multiple-choice, standardized test based on a psychometric theory guiding item “correctness.” It was started under the Pinochet dictatorship in the 1980s, and is one of the few policies that went from that period into the post-dictatorship without questions or critique from social movements. This is because the “equity” discourse surrounding the development of the SIMCE was that all schools needed to be schools of quality and to be “fair and just,” and that the SIMCE was capable of bringing these ideas of justice “into the educational conversation.” But the SIMCE also began to be a policy tool, linked to teachers’ salaries, and later to school closings.  

R & P: How have they closed schools based on the SIMCE? 

J:  So far, no schools have been closed using the SIMCE—yet. But this year, close to 218 (with 60,000 students) could be closed. The top-ranking 35% of schools on the SIMCE get extra funds. Teachers get monetary rewards, and schools get more independence in the use of their resources. But if they do poorly for four years, schools will be closed. This is a new policy that was started four years ago, and now there are these 200+ schools in danger of being closed because of poor rankings on the SIMCE. This will be the first time schools will be closed because of lower SIMCE scores.

R & P: What is Alto al SIMCE and who is involved?

J: Alto al SIMCE (AaS) is a collective and a campaign, formed in 2013 by people from teacher organizations and academics. It is a core group that has been working together for years, a generation of people who were doing graduate studies abroad and wanted to contribute to the struggles that were happening in Chile’s education system. 

 

R & P: Why did you focus on the SIMCE? 

J: We realized that the SIMCE was a key element in the neoliberal reform of education, and no one was talking about it. Along with other pillars sustaining the market in education, the SIMCE was a key factor that no one was criticizing. It has now become a high-stakes test with consequences for schools, teachers, and students, so we saw in the SIMCE a way to bring together parents, teachers, and the school community because everyone is affected by it, everyone can feel it, how education is different because of the SIMCE. Everyone has the experience of pain, frustration—the teachers, the students, the parents, even the administrators. It’s a way to bring all of them together behind a certain agenda. Also, some of us in AaS were connected to people involved in similar struggles in the U.S., or were ourselves involved—for example, involved with the struggle to protect a UMass Amherst professor who took a stand against Pearson and the EdTPA and was fired.

R & P: Can you talk about how you organized?  

J: From that activism, we connected to the Education for Liberation Network (in the US) and similar groups. We did one presentation at the NYCORE [New York Collective of Radical Educators] conference in NYC, and that facilitated a lot of our work in framing the demands and the campaign. We connected to the work in the US and adapted and created our own things. There was knowledge being built in the US that allowed us to hit the ground running. 

In order to make the AaS organization function (we were seven people in the US, Brasil, England), we created with friends in Chile, a national “table” and invited teacher organizations, student organizations, and parent organizations to talk about the impacts of the SIMCE. Our initial work was to share our experiences with the SIMCE. Our work was grounded in research and people’s experiences so it made a lot of sense to people. Then we started to design small actions. The first 2-3 years were really directed towards challenging the “common sense,” to challenge the use of the SIMCE as a measure of the “quality” of the school. This is because the political argument from market-oriented reformers had been that the SIMCE was the tool through which parents could “exercise their right” to choose. Partly through our work, social organizations began to better understand the role of the SIMCE in sustaining the marketization of education. So the first 2-3 years of the campaign was directed toward “achieving the common sense,” to challenge using SIMCE as a measure of quality, to challenge the high-stakes character of the SIMCE.

At that point, the SIMCE was not considered a “high-stakes” test; that language wasn’t used, but the AaS campaign brought that into the discourse. It was a high-stakes test, but people weren’t using that language. We brought that into the conversation, in connection with what we were learning from the US and how people were doing similar work in the US.

R & P: Describe your goals and some of your campaigns.

J: The work in the beginning was around framing and discourse. The AaS people in Chile were connecting to organizations, progressive academics, presenting to student federations, etc. Alto al SIMCE became a demand of other organizations (students, university education students, teachers). And we had victories! The common sense was achieved. Even the [then-President] Bachelet government program had a section on the SIMCE and the need to restudy its purpose. [Michelle Bachelet, from the Chilean Socialist Party, was elected President in 2006 and served until 2010, when she was replaced by Sebastián Piñera, from the right wing. Bachelet was re-elected in 2014 and served until 2018, when Piñera again took over.] Bachelet said she would create a commission to analyze the test because of the “flaws of the instrument.” We feel that we were really successful at that point.

———————TO BE CONTINUED SOON!———————

No more profit!, No more SIMCE!, No more Market!

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