Israeli students face increasing number of standardized tests
'If raising test scores becomes an end in itself,' warns Anat Zohar of Hebrew University’s School of Education, 'it distorts the learning process; the cheating starts, and it’s unavoidable.'
Israeli schoolchildren, parents and teachers are increasingly questioning the educational benefits of the ever-expanding number of standardized tests that are administered in schools for the purpose of measuring school-wide and countrywide scholastic achievement.
Between the end of March and the beginning of June, eighth-graders throughout the country take the four examinations comprising the Education Ministry’s Education Growth and Effectiveness Measures for Schools (the Hebrew acronym for which is Meitzav). These measure competence in English, math, science and technology and each student’s native language, and are administered in the fifth and eighth grades. Second-graders take only the native-language exam. In addition, eighth-graders in 40 schools also take a fifth examination, the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement’s International Computer and Information Literacy study.
Although Educational Ministry directives explicitly prohibit using classroom time to prepare students for the tests, students and teachers report that as a result of the heavy pressure to produce good exam results, which are used to measure the performance of schools and teachers, students are drilled on the test material in an effort to raise their marks.
In addition to the Meitzav tests, last year students also took the international standardized tests Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) and Third International Math and Science Study (TIMSS).
One reason for the increasing number of international tests administered in Israeli schools is the country’s recent entry into the OECD.
“Eight months before the testing date we were already told about it, and a month and a half before we got workbooks from the school for the Meitzav tests,” explained a student from the central region who will be entering the sixth grade this year. “At first we spent 15 minutes of every class reviewing the questions in the workbook, and we also had homework from it. We spent the rest of the time on our regular material,” he said.
Eldad, whose daughter will be in the third grade, took the Meitzav Hebrew-language exam last year. “From the beginning of the school year the children are given information about the Meitzav test,” Eldad, who did not want his last name used in this report, said. “The closer they got to the testing date, the bigger the fuss was made over it. The class schedule contains Meitzav preparation hours, and they give them two practice exams. My daughter, who usually doesn’t make a big deal out of her schoolwork, couldn’t sleep at night before the Meitzav [test],” Eldad said.
“This year’s Meitzav scores will be better,” promised Education Ministry Director General Shimshon Shoshani at a recent conference to prepare for the new school year.
Academics also expressed opposition to this idea. “There’s a difference between an exam that is supposed to give us information and one that is supposed to determine fate,” explained Prof. Anat Zohar of Hebrew University’s School of Education, former director of pedagogical affairs in the ministry. “If raising test scores becomes an end in itself, it distorts the learning process. The cheating starts, and it’s unavoidable.”
In a response statement, the Education Ministry said it invests large amounts of resources in improving academic achievement, through adding classroom hours, teacher training and instruction, introducing changes to the curriculum and new instructional and learning methods. “This is basic pedagogical work, and for that reason the ministry sees no need for special preparatory workbooks with no genuine educational value,” the ministry said in its statement.