It was a surprise ending to our conversation along the nightly walk. When my daughter and I arrived at home we discovered the big news: that the Mathematics bagrut (matriculation) exam, to be held in two days, has been leaked and is being sold to students.
What a surprise.
We were just discussing my new experimental approach to exams. I was telling my daughter I had this idea, aimed eventually at changing learning: enable full Internet access during an exam. The big fear of cheating, I mean copying, is irrelevant, I told her. You’ve got to be a good student and know your way around the material in order not to get lost between the huge amounts of information, advice and opinions available online. If you can get your answers right without learning anything before, you must be a very good self learner and perhaps talented enough in this area not to need extra learning. As I see it, a big part of this test is to test students ability to learn, not necessarily their existing accumulated knowledge.
Shaii, my 10th grader, was surprised at this idea. I mean we’ve been talking for ever about exams and grades being out of date for the 21st century learner. And then we got back to this piece of news, about the Math exams being leaked. “It’s like a very long time extension”, she said, “or a very good preparation exercise. But it shouldn’t be a reason to cancel the exam”. Of course it shouldn’t. Nor should the ministry have to work on producing the back up copies and distributing them instead of the leaked questionnaires.
In fact, if I were the ministry of education, I would actually use the extra day until the math exam to send a copy of it to every student registered to take the exam this year. This way, all students start at the same starting point. Even if they solve everything and use their friends and teachers to break the toughest questions, I see no harm in their coming to the exam prepared.
You see, as long as we use exams as a tool to grade students achievements in a topic, we must keep it this way – a tool to grade ability, and not a tool to quantify what they don’t know. In other words, if a student was able to solve the exam a day earlier, and it doesn’t matter if he or she used assistance to do it, they will be able to solve their “real life problems” too. And that’s the whole purpose of education. To give them that tool, and this knowledge, of how to tackle a problem and reach a solution. In real life you don’t usually solve all your problems totally alone. Certainly not in this time and age of web and social networking.