In New York City as well as New York State, most third through eighth graders had to endure a three-day test this week. Each day they spent about 1 1/2 hours taking the "ELA"-- the English Language Arts exam, for their particular school grade. Very few people, students or adults, really like these exams and there has been a growing backlash of anger directed at the process, the manufacturer of the test (Pearson) and the politicians who promote these tests. In fact, a significant number of families had their children "opt out" of these tests, meaning, they provided excuse letters for their kids so that the youngsters were exempted from sweating through the tests.

I did not opt out my 7th grade daughter from the test, and I even wrote a letter to one of the major local newspapers, the New York Daily News, which was published on Wednesday. I expressed my disappointment with various aspects of the tests (especially the amount of time taken to prepare for them) but stated that academic life is chock-full of tests, and we may as acclimate our youth to this reality.

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But in some NY State districts, more than 70% of certain school grades opted out of these tests! Some people see this as a people's revolution, a daring expression of resentment, a democratic response. Others see it as folly, and a way to coddle kids. There is also anger about teachers being evaluated over these tests scores, when the tests are often rife with errors and poorly worded questions.


No one is ever happy when it comes to testing, huh?

Jewish Day Schools do administer these tests to their students, but I'm not sure if all the yeshivot do so. But in general, how do Jews look at testing and at the avoidance of testing? If we look at events in the Torah, we see individuals who were given tests by God, and who did not shrink from the demands: look at Noah's directive to build the Ark; Abraham's directive to go forth, to sacrifice Isaac. These are but a few tests, although they certainly were not standardized tests that required the use of #2 pencils.

And throughout time, Jews have so often been considered intellectual, willing to buckle down and study. Study Talmud, study math, study spelling, study civics, study agriculture... study study study, test test test.

I know Jewish parents who did opt out their children, and one Jewish woman who seems to be a crusader for the opt-out option. I realize they are exercising certain rights, but I also wonder if they are going off the path, the Derech if you will, of facing up to the challenges of tests, and dealing with the results.


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