First-graders will not have exams starting this school year.

The Education Ministry released a circular this week stating that all exams would be canceled in the first grade, in order to “reduce potential damage that they may cause to the learning process.”

Orna Zach, adviser in child development at the Adler Institute in Tel Aviv, explained that it was important to look at the process of learning as an achievement rather than to focus on the result: “The idea that a student will only make efforts if there is a grade involved is wrong, in my opinion. If you teach them to enjoy the learning process, they don’t need a grade to be fulfilled by their achievements.

“The anticipation that a child feels before entering the first grade is healthy, but if it becomes heavy, it can paralyze the child, it can lead to attention problems or fears,” she added.

The circular states that canceling exams will enable children to experience the learning process in a more positive, less stressful way.

Mira Itach, a teacher in the Tel Aviv area, supports the initiative: “They are small kids, they don’t have any experience yet that you can really assess. Once the basics are acquired, then you can assess through exams.”

She added that exams are of no help to a first-grader: “On the contrary, knowing that there are no exams could lead to greater success.”

According to the Education Ministry, exams are “one of many” tools that teachers can use to assess a student’s advancement in the school system. The circular says that exams “could have unwanted negative consequences” and calls for teachers to use other means of assessment such as oral or written comments on the child’s achievements.

Itach believes, however, that reading skills should stay subject to an exam, to check the fluency of the child’s reading and measure where the class stands: “It is important to test reading, a lot of kids may have difficulties in terms of reading. The teacher needs to know about them in order to help overcome the obstacles.”

The stress that exams can cause to a child can sometimes be amplified by demanding parents: “Sometimes, parents compete with other parents on how well their child did. No exams will also lift that stress off the parents,” Itach explained.

Adi Blum, mother of Yuval, who started first grade this year, says she is happy about the ministry’s decision: “The transition from kindergarten to school is already a really stressful thing, grades only make it worse,” she said.

She noticed the effect exams had on her son, Nadav, who was in first grade last year, when he took a math test at school and received a comment from the teacher that said “very good” instead of the usual “perfect.” He was so ashamed that he preferred not to show the test to his parents.

“We always tell them that it’s okay to make mistakes, and that if you don’t make mistakes, you can’t learn, but despite that, the system forces kids to participate in this competition,” Blum said.

“Parents too need to focus on giving encouragement on how much the child has invested into learning, and less on the result,” Zach added. “The grades only lead to competition and a feeling that you always need to compare.”

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