After the army, education is the best method of guaranteeing national security.
It is also the most important force for financial and cultural advancement and
most importantly, the thriving of our country.
School improvement is an
essential component of effective education. But not all methods of doing this
make sense. Former education minister Gideon Sa’ar’s insistence on continuing
the use of standardized tests to measure school performance not only defies
educational logic, but sets Israeli education back 20 years. Here’s
The first objection is that standardized tests do not measure
anything remotely connected to school improvement. Like evaluations of all
professionals, what the client brings to the doctor, lawyer or accountant has as
much to do with success as what the professional brings to the client. Doctors,
for example, are not held accountable when advanced cancer patients dies. They
are evaluated on whether they did everything possible to make the situation as
good as possible.
Heart surgeons have different mortality rates than knee
surgeons (at least I hope so). Lawyers with guilty clients cannot expect the
same results as lawyers with innocent ones. The same is true for teachers and
schools. What students bring to the teacher or school has as much to do with
success as what they do for the student. That is close to impossible to measure
with a test.
Secondly, the only concept worth measuring in school
evaluation is student improvement. Moving a student from a 60 on some
theoretical scale to a 75 is better than moving a student from 97 to a 94 on the
same scale even though 94 is higher than 75 and gives the school a higher
rating. The tests recommended by Sa’ar do not take this into
Another failure of measurement on these types of tests is that
they do not recognize the difference between a student who makes a careless
mistake and those who really haven’t learned the material or skill. This is
especially true for important subjects like math. Some students simply test
better than others, and their results do not accurately reflect school
performance. In addition there is great variance in test preparation among
schools that has little to do with comprehension of material.
and most importantly, the most important things in life simply cannot be
measured, and it is foolish to try. In fact, the more important something is,
the sillier it is to try to measure it. How do you measure a loving spouse, or a
great parent? How about taking care of an elderly parent who needs constant
care? How about someone’s relationship to the Torah? Any attempt to put numbers
on these activities is beyond ridiculous.
Learning, also one of the most
important things in life, simply cannot be measured by some magical numerical
process. The vast majority of educators now recognize this, and are attempting
to reverse decades of bowing at the altar of standardized tests. Israel needs to
look to the future, not the past.
The writer is the director of the
behavior disorder masters program at David Yellin College and the coauthor of
Discipline with Dignity.