There are more and more outstanding ones: is it a good sign?

Every time we find higher scores in the final qualifications of Baccalaureate and the EBAU in Spain. Does this mean that the students of today are better prepared than those of a decade ago?

In the last six courses, the percentage of students who pass the Baccalaureate with an average of outstanding has increased substantially. The increase has occurred unevenly between the public system and private and subsidized centers, so that in the former there has gone from 12.75% of outstanding students in the 2011-12 academic year to 22.9% in the 2020-21 (+10.15%), while in private and subsidized centers they have gone from 15.5% to 29.5% (+14%).

More effort or more pressure?

Some educational scholars explain this phenomenon in the following ways:

  1. Xavier Bonal, professor of Sociology at the Autonomous University of Barcelona, ​​affirms that students may make more effort than before since they are subjected to great pressure if they want to enter certain degrees, since the cut-off marks in many of the careers are have increased substantially.

  2. Ismael Sanz, professor of Applied Economics at the Rey Juan Carlos University and researcher in Educational Economics affirms that “there is pressure from the educational system itself to raise grades: autonomous communities competing among themselves; families put pressure on teachers; there is the possibility of being able to appear for selectivity with some suspense, etc.”

Entering the desired career has sometimes become a real struggle. The first battles are fought in educational centers, since, in the final access grade, the Bachillerato record counts for 60% compared to 40% for the Selectividad.

The academic-labor future of young people remains, in a very important percentage, in the hands of the teaching staff of the centers.

EBAU qualifications

In the last decade, there has been an increase in pass rates in the selectivity exam, but this upward trend has not only occurred with those passed, but also in average grades.

For example, in the 2012–13 academic year the average was 6.21, while in the 2020–21 academic year, it was 7.23.

In addition, now also a greater number obtains the best qualification in the EBAU. For example, 8 years ago the percentage of students earning A’s (9–10, excluding electives) was 3%, whereas today the percentage has risen to 7.4%, or more double than before.

As Jorge Sainz, professor of Applied Economics, states:

“There is a tendency to consider that getting a higher grade in Selectividad means that we are dealing with smarter students. And, with all due respect, they are probably neither smarter nor dumber, there is simply a clear inflation in student grades, something that does not happen only in Spain, what happens is that here it has worsened in recent years ”.

Comparison with PISA

In principle, the increase in grades should be an obvious sign of a better preparation of young people. But it is not so clear.

The first aspect that shakes this statement is the result in the PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) reports. These tests assess students’ skills in three broad areas: reading, mathematics and science.

While, as we have said, the qualifications have increased substantially in baccalaureate and selectivity, in the case of PISA this trend is not appreciated. A clear example of this is that in the last report (2018) the average scores obtained in the three areas were lower than those of 2003.

Evolution of scores for Spain in the PISA 2003-18 reports.
Ministry of Education and Vocational Training

Outstandings that aren’t excellent?

Another indicator of the skills of our students are the 6 levels determined by the PISA report: 1 represents a very low level of competence and level 6 represents excellence.

The latest PISA report places 7.7% of mathematics students between levels of excellence (5 and 6) and only 4.3% in science, both figures very far from the percentages of outstanding students in high school that are around 25 %.

However, a significant 49.2% is located in the lower levels (1 and 2) in mathematics and 50.6% in science.

The following graph shows the comparison between these scores and those obtained by the OECD.

file 20221125 22 qri5fs.JPG?ixlib=rb 1.1
Comparison of the level of competence between Spain and the OECD. Level 1 represents a very low level and n. 6 represents excellence.

As we can see, we have few excellent students and many among the least competent, a fact that clashes head-on with the number of outstanding students.

public private differences

Another aspect to take into account, as stated by Xavier Bonal, is that, year after year, most of the students with outstanding grades see how their grade in Selectividad drops several points with respect to the average they brought from the Baccalaureate.

In the general phase, grades between 9 and 10 drop sharply: 6.5% of students from public institutes, 9% from private centers and 7.3% from subsidized private schools achieve this.

This gap between the grades of the transcript and those of Selectividad especially benefits the private school when the mathematical formula of 60%–40% is applied.

In the final entrance mark, 19% of private students get an A, 16.2% in subsidized private and 12.8% in public.

Higher grades, but not better students

But in contrast, a study carried out by the Complutense University sheds some light on this fact, showing that students who graduated from public institutes have 63% more chances of getting good grades in university courses than one who comes from a center private or arranged private.

The authors point out three hypotheses: a higher quality of education, a better adaptation to the university (in the paying schools they are highly supervised) or that in the private one the grades are falsely inflated.

The most worrying thing of all would be that this increase in grades has not been produced by an increase in the skills of the students, but by a decrease in the level of demand in schools, through a more lax teaching staff and educational system. in ratings. The data seems to indicate, unfortunately, that this is the case.

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