04.12.2014 - UNESCO Office in Santiago

TERCE shows that primary school pupil performance improved in the region between 2006 and 2013

Average regional learning achievement scores significantly improved since the application of SERCE in all grades and areas assessed, especially in the case of mathematics.

Brasilia, 4 December. In order to analyse language, mathematics and science learning results for third grade and sixth grade primary school pupils in Latin American countries since 2006, one of the objectives for TERCE (the Third Regional Comparative and Explanatory Study) was to ensure comparability with SERCE, its predecessor. Thanks to the fact that all areas with the exception of writing were comparable with the second study, SERCE, in terms of scores, TERCE was able to determine if pupils from the participating countries made progress in terms of learning achievement between 2006 (the year SERCE was applied) and 2013 (the year TERCE was applied).

Pupil grades in most of the countries participating in TERCE improved significantly between the second and third study. Only in four of the 15 participating countries did average pupil grades –for some of the tests and areas assessed– decline substantially between 2006 and 2013.

Progress is encouraging, but additional efforts are required in order for countries to keep their commitments of ensuring quality education for boys and girls from the region.

Results show that there are still challenges in terms of basic skill acquisition. Attending school is not enough; children also need to learn what is required while they are in school. If children do not acquire basic knowledge at school, the risk of dropping out increases, and disadvantages that exacerbate over time remain.

Primary education is essentially important for the Right to Education, which is understood as the life-long education. Thus understood, this right requires quality education.

The national learning achievement assessed by tests such as TERCE only represents one dimension of education quality, which is efficacy. However, reading, writing, mathematics and science competencies are fundamental for its central role in achieving universal literacy and in learning to learn and therefore evaluating these competencies is of paramount importance for quality. UNESCO hopes that information provided by TERCE will be useful in order to get to know more about learning performance levels as one of the dimensions of education quality, which together with the others (relevance, pertinence, equality and efficiency), will make progress towards guaranteeing the Right to Education in the region.

TERCE is the most representative test that assesses performance by pupils in Latin America. Therefore, it constitutes a unique database. Over 3,200 schools and over 134,000 pupils participated in the TERCE (nearly 67,000 pupils per grade). On the average, approximately 250 schools and 9,000 pupils participated in each country. The sample varies by country, considering each population’s characteristics, but this is always representative of the third grade and sixth grade pupil population. Therefore, the results obtained evidence average performance of each country’s population with a high degree of certainty.

TERCE applies tests referring to common elements on the region’s school curriculums in mathematics, language and natural sciences, which is done by means of curriculum analysis. This includes the revision, systematization and analysis of what was required by different curriculums in different areas to be assessed throughout the region.  This analysis done, it is possible to establish common conceptual domains for primary school pupils in all of the participating countries. Consequently, measurement instruments are adapted to the region’s social, cultural and economic context.

There are four levels of pupil performance levels for each group and area. Level I groups together the easiest tasks and Level IV groups together the most difficult tasks. Since these levels are inclusive, those who reach Level IV solve items from all of the preceding levels.

The proportion of pupils at lower performance levels (under Level I and Level I) generally decreased and there was a slight increase in the percentage of pupils performing at the higher levels (III and IV); especially in Level III.

Even so, levels I and II tend to concentrate over 50% of the primary school pupils in the region for both SERCE and TERCE. Specifically, third grade mathematics is the area where the percentage of pupils in Level IV increased the most, going from 8% up to 12%.


With regard to gender differences, there is no generalized behaviour pattern for all tests and grades. For third grade and sixth grade reading, girls have higher average scores than boys in most countries. For sixth grade mathematics, significant differences favour boys more for both SERCE and TERCE in the region and in most countries. Considering the eight participating countries with comparable information, differences were observed in science and there are countries where performance by gender was the opposite, while significant differences favouring boys were observed for SERCE and significant differences favouring girls were observed for TERCE.

TERCE’s contribution consists of showcasing progress in pupil learning results in countries where the test was applied and factors explaining its success or shortcomings. At a country level, the essential thing is to understand the reasons behind its success and thus generate learning that will be useful for all educational systems. Analysis must therefore be made at a country level. Although there are common elements between countries, the region evidences a wide scope of realities.

UNESCO will continue to put forth these efforts, working in close collaboration with national authorities and all those contributing to achieve quality education so that everyone can make progress toward the eagerly awaited guarantee of the Right to Education in the region.

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