The first bagrut (matriculation) exam this season was the English exam. The way Israeli exams, in most subjects, work is like this:
A few hours before the exam, each school is sent more than enough test booklets, for every test that they will be giving.
They bring in proctors, unrelated to the school, but usually from a sector and gender that will be mutually comfortable.
The proctors make sure that the room is ready for the test, and then the students come in.
The students hand over everything that is not a pen, food, or drink, or whatever material is allowed to be brought in (for instance, a dictionary, or simple Bible).
Then the proctor hands out the exams, the students do what they can, and hand it in.
This is the process in short.
But what happens when someone finds a copy of the test and uploads it to the internet, so that he and his friends can prepare? It’s no longer an “unseen” text, and the questions are known, and the students have the opportunity to prepare answers . . . but not across the board, and therefore, the test isn’t really fair anymore.
The ideal would be to isolate that student, or possibly school, and punish them appropriately. But half an hour before the entire country is going to take the test, there is no time for that. So, what do they do? The following is what they did while I sat in the teacher’s room and waited, and while my co-teacher kept calling the Bagrut hotline to find out, as soon as possible, what we were supposed to do.
First, the people in charge of the bagrut exams talk. Then, they decide to change questions, and the new questions will be sent by email to the secretaries, to be printed and attached to the existing test booklets.
But what about the students who are LD, and therefore only do half the exam, orally? Which questions do they do? Previously, we had a list of which questions were necessary. Now, what do we do? What about those LD kids who have a disk? The disk doesn’t have a recording of the new questions, and it’s not fair to make them do the test without having those questions read aloud to them. And what about students who already started the test?
We got the list of questions for the first LD set, and the second LD set was told to do the original questions. Then we saw the replacement questions – they were practically identical to the originals, except maybe in a different order. The students who had already started had to start over, and had two options: 1. extra time, 2. moed bet (another chance to do the test, in a few weeks). Even for those who chose to take the extra time, the test isn’t really fair. It was late in the afternoon, and doing a matriculation exam is taxing. I think it’s fair to say that the answers they gave the second time around were probably of a lesser quality than those they gave the first time around.
Because all anyone knew was that the exam that was supposed to be at 4:15 had been leaked, this whole process happened to 2 separate exams – C and G, which were both scheduled to take place at 4:15 that afternoon.
Two days later, we hear unwelcome news: Now, 45 minutes before the start of the exams, all students testing must be phone-less in the examination room. Then the tests will be sent by email to the secretary, who will print them out for the students. This is a bad plan, and if this is what we have come to, then we are in big trouble. First, let’s see why it’s a bad plan:
1. 45 extra minutes in the exam room. Expect grades to drop immediately, because that adds 45 extra minutes of stress, and certainly won’t help anyone do better on the test.
2. What happens if the school’s internet happens to not be working exactly when it needs to be? What happens if a specific city has a power outage exactly when the bagrut needs to start?
3. Previously, the test booklets were sent to the schools. Who is going to pay for the photocopying? And for bigger schools, is 45 minutes going to be enough?
4. Who says the test won’t leak, anyways?
In my opinion, there are major underlying issues in the system, if this is what we have come to. But on the other hand, I thought that anyways. I’m not sure how standardized, stupidized, matriculation exams help our academic ranking, use, or level at all. In fact, I’m pretty sure it does the opposite. But I’m no minister of education, so my opinion doesn’t really matter, does it?
In addition, the new system punishes everyone. Why not just punish the sector that started the leak? I understand that in today’s age of Facebook and Instagram, the leaked test will make it to everyone. But not fast enough to be a real threat to the test’s integrity, for the rest of the country.
Update: The Education ministry has responded to the anger of teachers and parents, by finding a middle ground. Some schools will get direct delivery, and some schools will have to send two representatives who will be held responsible for the integrity of the exam in that school. Students will have to hand in their phones 30 minutes early. This is much, much better. Will it work? I don’t know. Honestly, I am of the opinion that a student who wants to cheat will find a way to do it, no matter what guidelines are set. This is a global problem (as in, affecting the entire Western world) and will not be solved until we stop making academics into a golden calf that everyone is required to serve.
We, as a whole, need to put more emphasis on who people are, and a solid value system, and less on grades, academics, and what people have. “Keeping up with the Joneses,” should not exist, and is a symptom of this same problem; when you have to prove that you are a worthwhile person by grades, money, or lifestyle, you cannot put the same energy into living according to proper values. But that’s a subject for a different post.