Mexico: teacher appraisal no longer linked to student performance
Latin America’s largest teachers’ union has stood firmly behind its members through efforts to end the practice of evaluating educators based on the academic outcomes of their students.
Although student learning outcomes in Mexico are considerably below the OECD average, trend analyses of the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) results have shown some encouraging improvement in student learning outcomes, particularly in the area of mathematics. "We are happy about this and see it as an achievement of the teaching profession," says Juan Diaz de la Torre, President of the national education union of Mexico, SNTE. However, Diaz de la Torre has concerns about socio-cultural factors still strongly influencing student results. "Drop-out rates are high. Inequity is one of our main challenges."
Mexico has recently introduced extensive reforms of its basic education system with a strong focus on student achievement, including evaluation and assessment schemes at the student and teacher level. But the National Assessment of Academic Achievement in Schools (ENLACE), which was supposed to be a diagnostic and formative assessment instrument, has already led to some detrimental effects in classroom practices, such as teaching to the test.
Although SNTE has supported some of the reform measures, it has opposed the use of student achievement scores for teacher appraisal. "It has raised important issues of fairness among our members across the country," says Diaz de la Torre. Even though the union was able to stop the practice, the so called "Standardised Teachers Examination" is still part of the teachers' appraisal system. To counter it, SNTE has recently started developing its own evaluation system, which takes into account the school environments as well as students’ social background.
The SNTE President shares the view of OECD experts who recommend that Mexico establish a clear set of coherent teaching standards providing for the core knowledge, skills and values associated with effective teaching. The union has assumed responsibility to organise in-service training programmes for its members throughout the country on these issues.
The Mexican education sector is not alone when it comes to reform. The SNTE itself is undergoing major changes in its structures and functioning after the union became embroiled in a major scandal in 2012 when its long-time president was accused of corruption practices. Alleged embezzlement of union funds, and the role the union leader played in the appointment of teachers in Mexico, struck the country's entire teaching community. Now two years on, SNTE is recovering from the internal crises and its members are gradually regaining confidence in their union. At a meeting of the union's leadership in Guadalajara on 6 Dec. the new SNTE President recalled the major contributions made by the education union to the improvement of the professional status of teachers since its creation in 1943.
Among the internal changes that Diaz de la Torre has introduced since he was elected president in February 2013 is the promotion of a culture of transparency throughout the organisation, giving every member the opportunity to find information online covering all aspects of the union's work and finances. The SNTE has also created more opportunities for membership participation at all levels. In addition to 30,000 local union activists, 106,000 school representatives have recently been elected, all of whom have a direct influence on the union's activities.
The General Secretary of Education International (EI), Fred van Leeuwen, who attended SNTE's leadership event, said that the union's struggle for quality and equity does not stop at Mexico’s national borders. "It is a global battle," he said, calling for education unions worldwide to reinforce their role as custodians of the teaching profession.
With a membership of 1.6 million, the SNTE is the largest education union in Latin America.