What is SERCE?
The Second Regional Comparative and Explanatory Study (SERCE 2006) assessed learning achievement among 100,752 third grade students and 95,288 sixth graders, across 16 countries and the Mexican State of Nuevo León; questions addressed skills in mathematics, reading, writing and natural sciences. Its completion made SERCE the largest learning achievement study ever implemented in Latin America and the Caribbean. The study also investigated factors in the school and in society at large that are associated with students’ learning achievement, which may explain the differences observed.
SERCE is a part of the all-encompassing actions taken by the UNESCO Regional Bureau for Education in Latin America and the Caribbean (OREALC/UNESCO Santiago) to ensure everyone’s right to a quality education that is relevant, pertinent and equitable. The study supported this venture by providing relevant information for education policy as well as practices in schools and classrooms.
Highlights from its results include underscoring the importance of generating an approachable and positive environment of respect as a key element to promote learning among students. The study found that the influence of conditions within the school on students’ learning outcomes shows the major contribution made by the establishments themselves, even overshadowing factors related to socioeconomic context, playing a significant role in reducing learning inequalities associated with social disparities. Nonetheless, school segregation along socioeconomic and cultural lines has a negative effect on performance, and is the second most important variable in explaining the differences observed. Thus, equity in the distribution of learning across different social strata remains an unresolved and important issue, the SERCE report concluded.
Equity: a pending task, according to SERCE
An analysis of SERCE’s main results shows that equity in the distribution of learning across different social strata remains a pending and important issue, as major disparities in learning outcomes exist both between and within countries.
The research shows that one of the causes underlying this inequality is economic - specifically, production and distribution of income. This would explain why higher income countries such as Chile, Argentina and Uruguay generally show better results.
It was also shown that at a national level, the location of schools has a strong impact on the results achieved; for example, children who attend rural schools in Latin America and the Caribbean achieve lower scores than those who are educated in urban areas.
The study also investigated the factors associated with students’ cognitive achievements, and found that the performance of Latin American and Caribbean schools explains between 40 and 49% of their students’ learning results. Therefore, it was shown that the school environment, along with its average socioeconomic and cultural catchment demographics, are the main variables associated with performance, while other variance in cognitive achievement can be attributed to socioeconomic and cultural differences between the students themselves and their families.
How was SERCE conducted?
The study was designed, implemented, and analysed with the participation of a wide range of teams of analysts, teaching experts, curriculum specialists, survey creation professionals, technical personnel and monitors from the region, making SERCE an interesting opportunity to collaborate, to learn, and to strengthen technical capacities among the national assessment system teams involved.
Its orientation was based on tests referring to the common curriculum within the region, structured from a life-skills approach as UNESCO recommends, and taking into account the knowledge, skills, abilities, values, and attitudes that Latin American students ought to learn and develop in order to best act and participate as active members of society, both as individuals and as citizens. The SERCE tests were prepared following an analysis of the curricula of the participating countries, coordinated by the Instituto Colombiano para el Fomento de la Educación Superior (Colombian Institute for the Promotion of Higher Education, ICFES) in close collaboration with OREALC/UNESCO Santiago.
Along with assessing learning outcomes, SERCE used questionnaires to obtain information on students and their families, on teachers, and on schools, helping to identify the factors that have the strongest impact on pupils’ learning.
The participating countries were Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, the Dominican Republic and Uruguay, as well as the State of Nuevo León, in Mexico. Language and mathematics skills were assessed in all countries, while the science assessment was applied to sixth grade students in Argentina, Colombia, Cuba, El Salvador, Nuevo León, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, the Dominican Republic and Uruguay.
What were the differences between the Second Regional Comparative and Explanatory Study (SERCE, 2006) and the First Study (PERCE, 1997)?
In the late 1990s, the Latin American Laboratory for Assessment of the Quality of Education (LLECE) implemented SERCE’s direct forerunner, the First Regional Comparative and Explanatory Study (PERCE). The main differences between the first and second studies were as follows:
- Students’ learning results were not directly comparable between the two studies as a result of a number of assessment innovations in SERCE.
- SERCE assessed learning among students in the third and sixth grades, while the First Study assessed third and fourth grade students.
- The First Study assessed reading and mathematics, so SERCE was broader in scope in that it also assessed writing skills and the natural sciences.
- Unlike the First Study, SERCE applied a matrix test design, allowing more content shared across the region’s curricula to be assessed.
- SERCE included open questions in the mathematics and science tests, representing an innovative improvement as against the First Study.