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Educational Policy Recommendations from the Third Regional Comparative and Explanatory Study (TERCE)

Educational Policy Recommendations from the Third Regional Comparative and Explanatory Study (TERCE)

The Latin American Laboratory for the Evaluation of the Quality of Education (LLECE) has released recommendations for education policy based on findings from the regional learning assessment TERCE. 


New progress is being made in the Latin America region in translating learning assessment data into effective policies and plans. The UNESCO-coordinated Latin American Laboratory for the Evaluation of the Quality of Education (LLECE) has so far conducted three regional learning assessments, with data collection for the latest—the Third Regional Comparative and Explanatory Study (TERCE), completed in 2013 in fifteen countries. LLECE has encouraged education stakeholders to use the evidence from these learning assessments to improve policy and practice on the ground—most recently, with the publication of the report Educational Policy Recommendations from TERCE (available here in Spanish).

The report is divided into four sections, beginning with the central question of what it means to make evidence-based educational policy decisions. A second section focuses on six contextual issues that the TERCE data have shown to have the greatest influence on learning achievement: socio-economic inequality, rural location, school attendance, child labour, gender inequalities, and issues affecting indigenous peoples. The third section of the report examines system-wide factors, including structural issues such as years of compulsory schooling, the level of financing, and approaches to decision-making, as well as other systemic aspects including provision for early childhood education, repetition and attrition, teacher training, and information and communications technologies. Finally, the fourth section examines topics internal to the school: inequalities of learning within schools, books and textbooks, infrastructure and services, instructional time, school leadership, and teacher practices.

The data on each of these sub-sections is explored concisely in just a few pages, in each case followed by specific policy recommendations—some suggestions of general relevance for national educational systems, and some examples of policies that could be applied by schools and local actors, depending on their specific circumstances. This easy-to-reference format should make the document useful and accessible to policy-makers throughout the region.

A second strength of the report is the recognition that each level of national educational achievement requires unique policy priorities and strategies. Overall, the TERCE data shows that most countries in the region are still achieving poor results and are just beginning to transition to a fair level of quality. Only the education systems of Chile, Costa Rica, and Uruguay are classed as having adequate levels of learning achievement. Using a model from the McKinsey study, How the World’s Most Improved School Systems Keep Getting Better, the report advocates distinct policy approaches for education systems that are struggling to go from poor performance to fair performance, versus those striving to go from fair to good, good to great, or great to truly excellent.

The most extensive discussion in the report focuses on socioeconomic inequality, as the factor of greatest influence on learning achievement in the region. Again arguing the importance of differentiating policy-making according to context, the report describes four possible policy responses to issues of socioeconomic status (SES), depending on whether there is a strong or weak relationship between SES and learning achievement, and the percentage of variance in achievement that is explained by SES. The below table summarizes the recommendations made in the report (pp. 51-52).


Statistical relationship between SES and learning achievement

Percentage of variance in achievement explained by SES




 Educational policies should focus on the lowest-performing schools, independently of their socioeconomic level. This is because it is less probable that the differences in socioeconomic status explain the differences in school learning achievement.

 In cases where there are large learning inequalities between schools, which are largely explained by differences in the average socioeconomic levels of different school establishments, educational policies should aim to reduce these inequalities. To do so requires measures that increase social inclusion in schools, such as those that prevent the selection of students. There is also need for policies that assist particularly vulnerable students and the schools they attend. 


 In these contexts, universal educational policies—which apply to the entire school system—are the best suited for improving learning. This type of policy includes curricular changes, improvement in teacher qualifications, attraction of high-performing students to the teaching profession, challenging continuing professional development programs for teachers, and more widespread application of effective teaching approaches, among others.

 In this case, students in schools with low socioeconomic status have limited possibilities for improvement. Education policies should focus on erasing the obstacles that impede the high performance associated with high socioeconomic status. Compensatory programs should be established focused on schools with a low socioeconomic status, such as school feeding programs, additional resources, or free educational materials and textbooks for students.


Because each section of the report contains a wealth of data and policy analysis, it is not possible to summarize them all here. Interested readers may find it most effective to search the table of contents for the issues that most strongly affect learning achievement in their own context, in order to explore in greater detail the possible policy strategies that apply.

And for those interested in reading more about the significance of the TERCE study for the classroom, LLECE has also produced a useful set of complementary documents on Mathematics, Reading, Writing, and the Natural Sciences, under the series “Contributions to Teaching” (Aportes para la Enseñanza):

Aportes para la Enseñanza de la Matemática

Aportes para la Enseñanza de la Lectura

Aportes para la Enseñanza de la Escritura

Aportes para la Enseñanza de las Ciencias Naturales



Contributed by : E. Treviño C. Villalobos A. Baeza