Tests are a necessary part of the education of the vast majority of students; removing them will worsen their learning, not improve it.
The Ministry of Education recently declared a revolution: a massive cut in examinations, and a move towards “alternative evaluations” and “meaningful learning” · However, the system that proved itself for thousands of years is not replaceable · Civics teacher Yossi Londin questions the Education Minister’s reforms
It would seem that every teacher, at any time or place, has dreamt of a utopia: rows of alert students thirsty for knowledge, enjoyable intensive study without external pressure, a complete lack of a system of rewards and punishments, and most of all the disappearance of those long, scary forms emblazoned with the dreaded word: test.
The dream of learning “for its own sake” is a wonderful one, but like all utopias, reality is more complicated. The historic experience of thousands of years teaches proves again and again those ancient truths – without an objective, rewarding system of control and feedback, your average student (and even the non-average student) will prefer the beach or the new iPhone game over study.
“Study for its own sake” was and will remain the purview of a small elite. The overwhelming majority of students throughout the world – form elementary schools to doctoral programs – even if they understand and absorb the importance of a broad education, will not succeed in making the most of their skills without a battery of tests which will properly evaluate their present knowledge and further potential.
Exams are not a disaster and they are not just a necessity: one can have a fun and fruitful learning experience even if there’s a test at the end of the road. But without a reliable measure of student’s knowledge – not just some vague “alternative evaluation” but a hard number – the educational system cannot fulfill its goals, whether intellectual or value-related.
The reality according to which study without exams is not effective is indeed not good. Isn’t it great that you can always “kill the messenger” when that happens? Well, the Education Ministry, especially under the present administration, has decided to do just that – by massively cutting tests, especially matriculation exams, and replacing them with a variety of unclear “alternative tests”, whose efficacy is doubtful at best. The ministry would rather do this rather than tell the students of Israel a few simple truths: achievements require hard work and study, and study requires review and memorization, and even a dreaded “factory of tests and grades”.
The intentions of the Education Minister are noble. The present test system has many flaws, and some of the changes do address and fix them. But that doesn’t change the overall trend of the reform, which aims to revolutionize learning itself, in the name of “meaningful learning” – whatever that means. This will bring two tragic results: a drop in the value of matriculation grades and worse – with the lowering of tension, a lessening of educational energy and drive.
Let us study, teach and test in peace. We’ve been doing it for two thousand years, and there’s no reason we can’t do so successfully with the proper periodic adjustments. One can learn, be curious, undergo intellectual experiences, grow in knowledge and values – and be tested.
Yossi Londin is a civics teacher at Yeshivat Darchei Noam and Orot Israel College.
English translation by Avi Woolf.