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Like many countries, Israel has seen an increase in recent years in the use of three kinds of standardized tests: tracking tests in elementary and middle schools, such as the Measure of Scholastic Efficiency and Growth (known by its Hebrew acronym Meitzav), which has no direct influence on the individual pupil’s future but may be interpreted as reflecting the quality of a school and the quality of the entire education system; voluntary tests at the end of secondary school, such as matriculation exams, which serve mainly as a selection tool for higher education and which may also be interpreted as measures of the quality of a school; and international tests, such as the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) test, which are administered to a small sample of pupils and serve as a measure of the quality of the entire education system.
Israel’s education policy has swung from one extreme to another in recent years. In 2005, the Dovrat Committee ascribed great importance to the use of tests for increasing the accountability of the education system and received the government’s full backing. Now the winds are changing. The new Minister of Education minister, who took office in 2013, views the current level of testing as excessive, as an obstacle to "meaningful learning”, and has taken concrete steps to reduce it.
There is some merit in both positions. The wide use of standardized tests throughout the industrialized world is evidence that many recognize their usefulness. However, correct use of standardized tests requires a directed and considered effort; incorrect use of tests can get in the way of good teaching.
To meet with this challenge, the Van Leer Jerusalem Institute is initiating a study group, a workshop, and an international conference on "Measurement and evaluation in the service of learning", in a broad context that includes the following aspects:
- Applying measurement and evaluation tools and providing feedback at the level of the classroom and the school
- Adapting measurement and evaluation systems to teaching needs in terms of timing, organization, training and analytical tools.
- Achieving the right balance between accountability and trust.
- Measurement and tracking of affective variables, such as motivation and anxiety, and of school atmosphere and students' moral values.
The aim of the study group is to hold professional, interdisciplinary discussions of these topic and to prepare the workshop and conference. The group’s participants include experts in measurement and evaluation from the National Authority for Measurement and Evaluation and the National Institute for Testing and Evaluation; senior staff of the Ministry of Education, the Center for Education Technology, the Avney Rosha Institute, and the Trump Foundation; school principals; teachers; and academics.
The group will hold six monthly meetings, starting in the beginning of 2014. The meetings will have a fixed format that includes an hour-long presentation of the topic and a discussion lasting an hour and a half. The meetings will be planned by group members who are experts or by outside experts. If there is sufficient interest, the group's meetings will continue after the summer.
The daylong workshop will take place in June. Group members will take an active part, as will outside participants. The workshop will be open to a broader, invited public.
The two-day international conference, planned for December 2014, will continue the work of the workshop and the study group, with the aim of encouraging public discussion of these topics, with the participation of leading experts from Israel and abroad.