The Untold Story of the Chilean National English Test: SIMCE Inglés 2010

SIMCE Inglés 2010: The Untold Story of the Chilean National English Test

Why do we take tests? Generally speaking, it’s because both the teacher and the learner are being held accountable. Accountability is an important concept.

For English language teaching, it means the teacher has received training in pedagogy and in the disciplinary knowledge to be taught.

In other words, a teacher of English has been trained to speak, understand, read and write in English, ideally, at a high level, as a minimum, above the level of the students to be taught.

In Chile, that level has been identified as the ALTE 3, or First Certificate Level, which is B2 on the Common European Frame of Reference (CEFR) chart.

Further, in addition to knowledge of English, disciplinary knowledge about how to teach English is required.

In other words, knowing a language does not automatically mean that you can successfully teach a language.

The old paradigm in Chile was for teachers to teach about English – in Spanish.

However, numerous studies, in Chile, have shown that when teachers teach English in English, students have better results.

Not surprisingly, teaching English, in English, is the gold standard for teachers.

All teachers are held accountable to that, by their students, peers, and perceptually, by society in general.

Yet knowledge of English, and the methodology of how to teach English in English, is not enough. One additional element is needed. That element is pedagogy.

What is pedagogy?

We use the term, “pedagogy”, so often that we may be unaware that all people do not share the same understanding of the term. There are, in fact, a multitude of definitions available to choose from.

I “googled” the term and came up with this result: 2 full pages of definitions. Which definition do you like? Oh, the second page defines “Andragogy”, (adults) in contrast to pedagogy (children).

Here’s the definition I am using in this blog post when I refer to pedagogy:

Pedagogy is the study of the methods and application of educational theory to create learning contexts and environments. A selection of the range of pedagogies is provided in Appendix 11.

For me, the key words are: educational theory.

A knowledge of educational theory is important. Words like behaviourism, cognitivism, constructivism, connectivism, eclecticism, Grammar-Translation Method, Natural Approach, Communicative Approach, Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL – 2 for 1), bilingualism, ESL, EFL, ELT, etc. have got to mean something to a teacher.

Experience shows us that when teachers of English are equipped with three things: 1. personal knowledge of English (ability to speak, understand, read, write), 2. knowledge of how to teach English (methodology), and 3. knowledge of pedagogy (educational theory), we achieve our best results.

This is important, as a prologue, because this is what Chile has done. Beginning in 2003, with the creation of the English Opens Doors Program (Programa Inglés Abre Puertas), the teaching and learning of English has emphasised the training of teachers to include these three aspects:

1. personal ability in English
2. knowledge of methodology
3. knowledge of pedagogy

In 2004, the first test was conducted. In other words, both teachers and learners were held accountable. How well has the teacher been teaching? How well has the learner been learning?

The results were a disappointing 5% of students reaching the basic level, overall.

Disaggregation showed high socio-economic students with better results, which was expected.

Teachers who taught English, in English, had better results, which was expected.

Teachers with higher levels of training had better results, Masters vs Bachelors, Bachelors vs certificate, certificate vs no training.

With that information, we now knew where we were at. More importantly, we knew what we had to do: put a teacher in every classroom who could do three things:

!. speak English
2. teach English in English (methodology)
3. use the appropriate educational theory for the specific context where the teacher was at, both in terms of students, resources, and socioeconomic considerations.

For example, the educational theory a teacher would use for a class of 45 students from a low socio-economic background is not the same you would use for a class of 25 students from a high socioeconomic background.

Each context offers a distinctly different set of challenges, and opportunities, that require a different set of strategies, techniques, and methods, in order to be successful.

Let me be clear: in both circumstances above, both failure and success are equally possible. The teaching of English is not easier, I would argue, it is different, and should be approached in that light.

Again, when failure and success are dependent on the teachers knowledge, skills, and abilities (in large measure), what has Chile done to ensure that all teachers of English are great teachers of English, capable of personally communicating in English, teaching English in English, and knowledgeable about methodology and pedagogy?

The best person to answer that question is Sergio Bitar:

SIMCE INGLÉS 2010: The Untold Story

From what we just heard from Sergio Bitar, it is clear that the results showed improvement. We also must place the efforts of the Chilean English Opens Doors Program (Programa Inglés Abre Puertas – PIAP) into the proper context.

The best person to do that is for the former head of the program, Programa Inglés Abre Puertas (PIAP), Rodrigo Fabrega, to tell the story.

After you read the history that Rodrigo gives, is is abundantly clear that Chile was working methodically and professionally towards achieving the goal of raising the level of English in the country.

It is little wonder that results were slow in coming, given the common starting point: both teachers and students were unable to speak English, only 500 teachers per year were being trained in 2003, etc.

Chile had to start out by retraining its current teachers, training new teachers, and testing to see where and how progress could be made.

In 2010, evidence of further success was evident: yet it went unnoticed. It could have been a great moment, to spur efforts on to greater achievements nationally.

However, because the whole country was expecting another disaster, we failed to recognise the fact that Chile had increased the number of successful students at Basic level by 50%, going from just 5% in 2004 to 11% in 2010.

Don’t misinterpret me. I’m not saying that 11% is cause for a party to celebrate.

An 11% success rate, at the basic level, is not the goal everyone is striving for.

However, something very important was overlooked.

Besides the obvious progress being made (which is positive and should have been reported positively) something much more important happened.

Here is what I refer to: the average score on the 2010 test was 99 points, which meant that over 50% of Chilean students were now at level A1 – or higher.

That is a massive increase that went overlooked, and unreported.

How or why did Education Testing Service (ETS), English Opens Doors (PIAP) and all the teachers of English fail to recognise this fact?

You must read my book to find out how, and why this happened. More importantly, why it must not happen again

The Chilean National English Test

Book Description
Publication Date: March 25, 2012

SIMCE Ingles 2010: The development of the national English test in Chile coincides with my story, which is woven autobiographically into the larger story, a test which apparently resulted in only 11% of students able to achieve a passing score. This book will make you laugh, it will make you cry, it will reveal secrets to you that you thought you already knew about tests, test-making, and test-reporting. More importantly, you leave the reading of this book with a renewed sense of confidence in who you are, and what you do…


Teaching Academic Writing

At most universities world-wide, future EFL teachers are required to write in an academic style. Essays, research papers, and theses are examples of the most important academic writing that the student-teacher (hereafter ST) does. Furthermore, when they become EFL teachers, it is quite possible that they will teach students wishing to study at undergraduate or postgraduate levels. However, there are few published, experiential accounts of how future EFL teachers are taught to do academic writing. In this article, I will attempt to fill that gap by sharing an account of an integrated, genre-based/process-writing experience in the Chilean context.

Click on the link below to get Teaching Academic Writing:


The International Baccalaureate [Kindle Edition]

The International Baccalaureate [Paperback]

The global search for high-quality education, embedded in high-performing education systems, has taken on mythical proportions, almost resembling the alchemists’ quest to turn common metals into gold.

It is my hope that the present day search for global education, equitable and providing equality of opportunity for all, shall not cease until the “gold” we seek, has been found.

I therefore dedicate this book to all the educators, researchers, parents and students the world over, who strive to achieve this elusive goal,high-quality education for all the citizens of the world.

In this endeavour, it is my belief that the International Baccalaureate merits a closer look, based on their more than 40 year history of delivering consistently excellent results.

I add that all of the reflections and views in this book are mine alone, unless otherwise noted, and can not be attributed to my employer or any other organization I am affiliated with, past or present. For any errors or oversights, I bear the complete responsibility.


Amazon Author Page: Thomas Jerome Baker

Thomas Baker is the Past-President of TESOL Chile (2010-2011). He is the Head of the English Department at Colegio Internacional SEK in Santiago, Chile.

He is the Co-Founder and Co-Organiser of EdCamp Santiago, free, participant-driven, democratic, conversation based professional development for teachers, by teachers. EdCamp Santiago 2012 was held at Universidad Mayor in Santiago.

Thomas is also a member of the Advisory Board for the International Higher Education Teaching and Learning Association (HETL), where he also serves as a reviewer and as the HETL Ambassador for Chile.

Thomas enjoys writing about a wide variety of topics. Thus far, he has written the following genres: romance, historical fiction, autobiographical, sports history/biography, and English Language Teaching. He has published a total of forty four (44) books overall.

The source and inspiration for his writing comes from his family, his wife Gabriela, and his son, Thomas Jerome Baker, Jr.



About profesorbaker

Thomas Baker is the Past-President of TESOL Chile (2010-2011). He enjoys writing about a wide variety of topics. The source and inspiration for his writing comes from his family.
This entry was posted in Culture, Debates, Education, Education Technology, EFL, Higher Education Teaching & Learning, Reading, Reflections, Research, Teaching Tips, Writing and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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