Israel Suspends Standardized Tests

Education Ministry suspends the much reviled Meitzav exams, which according to one educator have turned from a useful tool to a 'golden calf.'

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Yarden Skop
Yarden Skop

The Education Ministry is postponing, until the 2014-15 school year, the national standardized student assessment tests known as the external Meitzav. In the interim, a ministry committee will revise the tests.

The external Meitzav tests, whose results are reported to the ministry, are usually given every two years. The internal Meitzav exams, whose results are for schools’ internal use only and needn’t be shared with the ministry, will be administered this year as usual.

In addition, over the course of the next school year, supervisors and principals will receive training on conducting internal evaluations in order to improve the teaching and learning process at their schools.

The ministry also plans to introduce legislation to prevent the unsupervised publication of Meitzav results, which according to Education Minister Shay Piron causes great damage to the education system, and especially to students.

The Meitzav tests students’ competence in English, math, science and technology and each student’s native language, as well as a questionnaire on the school’s pedagogic environment, and are administered in the fifth and eighth grades. Second-graders take only the native-language exam.

The external Meitzav is conducted in two subjects every two years, meaning each subject is tested once every four years. The questionnaires accompany every external exam.

The internal Meitzav for each subject is given in any year in which either there is no external Meitzav, or the external Meitzav doesn’t cover that subject. Thus internal Meitzav tests on each subject are given in three out of every four years.

One reason for the postponement of the external Meitzav is a recent High Court of Justice ruling specifying that the results be made public, enabling school-by-school comparisons of the results. The ministry has reservations about such comparisons. Officials argue that they do not consider other factors such as the number of special-needs students at a school, its success in preventing dropouts or the social engagement of the students.

Moreover, the ministry says, such comparisons embarrass teachers and students at low-performing schools, which tend to be in poorer communities.

Finance Minister Yair Lapid, the head of Piron’s Yesh Atid party, explained the decision on his Facebook page on Monday. “Today we canceled the Meitzav exams. Why? Because education isn’t about measurement, but about learning. Because knowledge and intellect shouldn’t be graded. Because we can’t compare students as long as we haven’t made sure they enjoy equal conditions ... In a world based on cooperation, teamwork and creative thought, we’ve enslaved our children to endless memorization that ends with them sitting alone in front of the [test] paper and hoping to get a better grade than the person sitting next to them.”

Educators generally welcomed the decision. Dr. Amnon Eldar, director of the Amit school system, said it was necessary, because the test has turned from a useful tool into “a golden calf that has assumed unreasonable proportions in the lives of teachers and students. The situation worsened after the [court’s] decision to publish the Meitzav results. I hope that now school administrations will be liberated from fear of the Meitzav and will use it as another tool to improve education and obtain information on educational needs.”

Oren Yehi-Shalom, director of the Hakol Hinuch educational association, agreed. “In recent years, the trend toward evaluation and measurement has turned from a school tool for improvement into a golden calf in a significant proportion of schools, at the expense of quality teaching and values,” he said, adding that responsibility for education should be returned to individual teachers and principals.

Alona Winograd, director of the Movement for Freedom of Information, whose petition sparked the court’s order to publish the Meitzav results, said she was happy the court case had prompted the ministry to reexamine its measurement and assessment tools. “The information’s exposure didn’t allow the Education Ministry to continue ignoring the limits of the Meitzav exams,” she said.

But she warned that she expects the ministry to make any new assessment tools “fully transparent” to the public. “Anything else will be interpreted as an attempt to evade the court’s ruling,” she said.

Illustration: High school students sitting an exam.Credit: Nir Kafri

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