"Cheating on exams is a national epidemic," said Knesset Education Committee Chairman Michael Melchior (Labor-Meimad) on Monday. "How does the educational system continue to conduct exams when it knows there is [widespread] copying?" Melchior's frustration came during a Knesset Education Committee meeting dealing with the possible cancellation of the Meitzav (an acronym for "school growth and efficiency index") standardized tests. During the discussion, pupils from the Ben-Gurion School in Petah Tikva elicited Melchior's response when they told the committee that the exams are easy, students regularly choose not to take them and that "copying during the Meitzav exams is the norm." "The high frequency at which Meitzav exams are administered have brought anxiety and hysteria to the schools," said Prof. Michal Beler, director-general of the National Network for Measurement and Assessment (Ramah), an independent group established by MK Ronit Tirosh (Kadima) that develops policy for measuring various aspects of the educational system, from test scores to pupils' self-esteem and school violence. The Meitzav exams, which are administered on a bi-yearly basis, examine the extent to which the school successfully teaches subjects tested on the exam. Its existence, said several invitees to the committee meeting, was harmful to the school's educational practices. According to Yoav Shaul, the principal of the Hadera High School, the studies have become exam-focused since the institution of the Meitzav tests, with teachers receiving special training in the period preceding the exams. Furthermore, he noted, the standardized tests don't take into account different pedagogic decisions in different schools. His school, for instance, was forced to test in physics in a grade level that had not yet studied the topic. "Meitzav hasn't proven itself," declared MK Ya'acov Cohen. "It doesn't include all the students, and many [of those who take the exam] cheat on it. So it doesn't represent anything." Not everyone spoke against the exams, however. The Achva School in Ramle, according to principal Ora Gavrieli, has been improved by the exams. "We've learned a great deal since the Meitzav exams entered the school," said Gavrieli. "It's true that it causes stress, but it gives added value to the school." MK Jamal Zahalka said, "Meitzav is a standard we can work with for universal comparisons." But, he added, "the Israeli educational system needed a large number of measurement tools, because of the problems in the system, the social gaps and the different types of populations." Zahalka recommended using Meitzav "as an educational tool in those schools that are on a certain level." The education committee meeting concluded with a call to change the testing structure so that it eliminates some of the hysteria from the testing process. In addition, the committee called on the Education Ministry to institute a national reading comprehension exam in the second grade.