Photo via La Voz Digital

The former Kirchner administration added a new episode to its fight with stats: the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) excluded Argentina from its latest PISA student assessment ranking — conducted in 2015— because the evaluation sample sent was smaller than it should have: “the sample is too small to guarantee the comparison” with the results from the prior test, informed the report that every three years measures the educational standards of 15-year-old students around the world. Math, science and reading comprehension are the subjects considered to determine this.

When analyzing the results, the specialists in charge of compiling the report concluded that Argentina showed an ostensible improvement compared to 2012’s results, when it finished 59th out of the 65 countries and cities that were evaluated. When digging around on the causes behind the improvement, the committee found out that Argentina had left out schools that had historically been part of the test, Infobae reports.  As a result the technicians decided to leave the country out of the ranking because it wasn’t possible to compare them with the more recent editions.

The news predictably sent shock waves throughout the political spectrum and the education ministers from both the former and current administrations came out to provide their respective explications. Alberto Sileoni, the education minister during the period when the evaluation was actually conducted, admitted to sending fewer results but said the reason that the schools were left out was because they “don’t exist anymore” — namely due to merging of schools with one another. “There were fewer students but in no way was there suspicion of [stats] manipulation,” he said.

Former Education Minister Alberto Sileoni

Sileoni went on to assure that earlier this year he got in touch with PISA’s “highest authority,” who told him “there were no reasons to not publish the results.” Considering his statements, the former Minister argued that the real reason has to do with political motivations from the current administration: according to Sileoni, the ministry’s new authorities requested PISA the results not be published because they expected an extremely poor result for Argentina.

Few minutes later the current Education Minister, Esteban Bullrich, gave a press conference in the Casa Rosada to explain the government’s stance. It was a very different one: although he denied that the previous administration had altered the sample in an attempt to cover up failures in the educational system, he said they made a “severe mistake” in their methodology due to their “lack of commitment with statistics.”

Be it because of animosity between political parties or a different reason altogether, many consider the Cristina Fernández de Kirchner administration to have been loose with statistics. Among the highlights:

  • Fernández de Kirchner’s assertion before the UN’s Food and Agriculture meeting that Argentina had a 5 percent poverty rate.
  • The inflation indexes released monthly by the statistics agency INDEC under then-Domestic Trade Secretary, Guillermo Moreno which drew independent and international criticism for gaps in accuracy.
  • Perhaps the cherry on top, the refusal to release poverty stats because, in former Economy Minister Axel Kiciloff’s words, they were “stigmatizing.”

Along these lines, Bullrich went on to say that the current administration is working with “a commitment to the truth”: “This resembles a country that didn’t have any commitment to statistics and truth. We don’t want a false rhetoric to be built, and less when it comes to education,” he said.

When explaining the reasons for the sample to be smaller, Bullrich said the ministry had to send “data from 13,000 schools but 3,096 were missing.”

“There was incompetence — flaws. We conducted an investigation in the ministry and there was no animosity. Schools that didn’t partake didn’t belong to a specific region, but it’s clear the sample wasn’t comparable.”

However, there’s a related matter that would also need an answer from the OECD: even having sent fewer results than it should have, the sample is larger than the one conducted in 2012, which was accepted by the organisation, La Nación reports.

In contrast with the message being sent by the incident, the City of Buenos Aires, which takes the test independently since 2012, did quite better: It came out 38th, doing better than the rest of Latin American countries in this list that Singapore tops. Chile was the best performing Latin American country, finishing in the 44th place.

In its first test, conducted in the year 2000, Argentina led Latin America and placed 37th in the global ranking. In 2003 the Kirchner administration decided the country wouldn’t compare the educational quality of its 15-year-olds with the rest of the world because it was still recovering from 2001’s economic crisis.

In 2006 the country went back to taking the PISA exams and registered a steep fall: it finished 53rd overall and sixth in Latin America. The situation got worse in 2009: it dropped five spots in the global tanking and placed seventh in the region. Things were pretty similar in 2012: 59th overall and sixth in Latin America.

Bullrich made the commitment to have Argentina take the test in 2018 and be in the ranking again.