The unique Selectivity sounds good at a time of very high competition to enter certain races. But it is easier to state than to apply. Implementing the same university entrance exam throughout Spain, instead of a different one in each autonomous community, has been one of the main educational approaches of the PP ―which already announced it and ended up renouncing it a decade ago― throughout of the legislature. The main argument is that it would reinforce equality of opportunity in a decisive test for thousands of students. A simple message in the face of a government embarking on a complex educational reform (like all of them). A dozen experts consulted by this newspaper consider, however, that it is an unfeasible objective or achievable only at the cost of a great educational and political conflict that could be useless: in 2012, the Constitutional Court already rejected a much more limited of the Executive to regulate the specific content of the test. 60% of the grade for access to the University (the percentage was set in its day by the popular ones) also comes from the Baccalaureate record, that is, from the sum of the grades of thousands of different exams and tasks, recalls Manuel Fernández Navas, Professor of Education at the University of Malaga. And without eliminating or drastically reducing the weight of the Baccalaureate, something that no one seems willing to do, the educational, political and very probably judicial war that a single exam would unleash would make even less sense.
Almost all the sources consulted consider it necessary, at the same time, to move towards a greater homogenization of some tests that give access to a single university district. That is, they allow a student to apply to enroll in any Spanish public faculty with the Selectividad mark, regardless of where they have taken the exam. “A growing sense of grievance is being generated on the part of students and their families. And the idea of leaving it as it is, I think it is not feasible ”, says Ismael Sanz, professor of Economics at the Rey Juan Carlos University and former director general of Educational Innovation of the Community of Madrid with the PP.
The specialists propose various alternatives so that the test is more homogeneous, such as including some common questions in the exercises for all of Spain. The Ministry of Education had already agreed, in fact, with most of the autonomous communities on a great harmonization of the test, which it planned to implement together with the new Selectivity format, finally frozen after the call for the 23-J elections. Said agreement covered the design of the exams, specifying the type of tasks to include in the tests or the number of words that the students should write in the open question of the Spanish History exam; the degree of optionality in the exercises; the tools available to students ―such as the calculator or mathematical formulas― and the evaluation criteria that would be applied, from the penalty for spelling mistakes, to written expression and the use of technical vocabulary through a rubric ( the document that is used to try to standardize the assessment) common.
The single exam is a politically more forceful message than that of improving the homogeneity of the test through consensus. But putting it into practice would involve many problems. The first is at the same time political, territorial and legal. 11 years ago the Constitutional settled a similar conflict between the Government and the Generalitat of Catalonia, stating that the Executive has powers to regulate the entrance exam to the University, but limited “to its basic content”. In no case, the sentence continued, “it implies nor has it ever implied absolute identity of the specific contents of the exam to be passed”, since the Generalitat also has a “shared competence”.
Based on article 149 of the Constitution and the Statute of Autonomy of Catalonia, the magistrates declared that several of the provisions of a government decree that delimited the content of the test violated the powers of the Generalitat by being “excessively detailed” and “detailed”. The court did not strike down the articles because the decree was no longer in effect at the time of the ruling. But he made his criteria clear in the face of much less invasive what would mean a single exam for all of Spain. The Government can decide, for example, how long the exams last, but not that the student must capture a text analysis “through the preparation of a summary”, the judges ruled.
Impoverish the curriculum
The single exam also poses an educational problem, related to the partially decentralized model of the education system. And it is that the contents (the curriculum) of the Baccalaureate are not the same throughout Spain. The Government establishes half and each autonomy, the other half, according to the distribution in force which, with small percentage variations, is the one that has functioned during most of the democratic period. Logic indicates that a single Selectivity would require a single curriculum. But this last option does not seem legally viable in view of the distribution of powers established by the Constitution and the statutes of autonomy, and the jurisprudence of the Constitutional Court (which, in principle, will have a progressive majority for many years).
Francisco López Rupérez, who was president of the State School Council with the PP, does believe that the single test could be implemented, and that doing so would mean “winning justice when ordering access to the University.” But at the same time, he admits the difficulties, related above all to the fact of the shared competence between the Government and the autonomies to set the programmes. One solution, he points out, would be for the EVAU (Evaluation for University Access) to be carried out only on the part of the contents that the Government sets. But this, warns Alejandro Tiana, former Secretary of State for Education with the Socialists, “would imply an impoverishment of the Baccalaureate curriculum through the test.” The Selectivity is so important that it determines what is studied in the two previous years. So if EVAU only looks at half the curriculum, schools would naturally and almost inevitably focus on that part, says Tiana.
A good part of the controversies that arise each year around the EVAU do not have, on the other hand, a regional scale, but rather a smaller one: they frequently respond to the way of correcting a certain court. And facing the great conflict of implementing the same exam throughout Spain with the argument of uniformity, while maintaining a source of differences of such magnitude as that does not seem to make much sense. But the possible solutions to the latter also raise educational problems. The safest way to ensure objectivity would be to use a multiple choice test, similar to the one used in the MIR exam for the training of medical specialists. But such a test would leave core high school skills, such as written expression, unassessed.
Almost all the experts consulted are in favor of introducing not a single exam, but “possibilistic” improvements, such as those described a few days ago by Lucía Cobreros, Lucas Gortázar and Juan Manuel Moreno in a report by EsadeEcPol, to achieve more comparable tests between universities. Moreno, professor of Education at UNED, mentions several, such as “setting some common tests or questions” for all the territories, or adding a part of the test as a “thermometer” to the exam in each community. Said complementary test, agrees Ismael Sanz, “would serve to equalize the final grade a bit and to check if there are many differences in the results of some communities and others.” Rupérez himself argues that the Selectivity could have a common part and another designed by each “smaller amount” autonomous community.
The single exam would also be a great logistical challenge. “If it is already very difficult to take the same test at the same time in a territory like Andalusia, imagine all of Spain,” says Manuel Fernández Navas, professor of Education at the University of Malaga, who has organized the Selectividad in Andalusia. The teacher sees so many obstacles to a potential gain so limited by factors such as the weight of the high school record in the final grade that he doubts that he is serious. “I don’t think it’s a real proposal, but a way to activate their political bases.”
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