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3 Cheshvan 5764 - October 29, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
School Testing: Ways and Means of Implementation

by Rav Moshe Karp

It is customary in various chadorim for the menahel to test grades four through eight in gemora, alternately. I would like to offer to the general public some of my observations, and conclusions drawn from personal experience.

Over the years, we have tried different methods of testing, each with its advantages and disadvantages, until we finally arrived at the one method of examination which appears to be the best one for the menahel in the classroom. In other words, by this method, a principal can evaluate the general knowledge of the class, as well as the individual accomplishment of each student, and at the same time have the entire class participate in the test. In addition, the student will emerge from the test knowing more than he did before.

The Individual Test

At first, the test was handled as follows: A student was asked to read a portion of the text and explain it. As he was reading and explaining, questions were asked on the topic.

This form was the best one for the student as an individual since it included correct reading as well as reading comprehension. It tested his straight logical understanding and included questions to sharpen his thinking etc. The drawback of this method was its difficulty in implementation within a classroom setting, since the rest of the students quickly got bored while their comrade was being tested. It was tried to skip from student to student and thus keep them all alert, but this method did not work well since the students were barely able to hear their peer reading the text and follow his words.

Oral Testing

When this proved unsatisfactory, we tried the classic method of oral testing. Questions were thrown at the class and the students, without any determined order, were called upon to answer.

From the very beginning, it became apparent what we could have known from the very onset: some students knew the material well while others didn't. Those who were fluent, were proud to show off their knowledge, while those who weren't, were distressed by their ignorance. In fact, those who did not know the answers were hurt and frustrated to the core by having their ignorance revealed in public.

Since it is of paramount importance to avoid embarrassing a student in public, we stopped calling upon the students who did not raise their hand and only asked those who did. All those who did not know the answers, thought they didn't know the answer, or were embarrassed to be exposed and take the risk, did not raise their hands and were not called on. But not everyone who raised a hand knew the answer, either.

The conclusion arrived at was that an oral exam only showed in a general way what the teacher had taught, for what he hadn't taught -- a student could not very well know. "If Rebbi did not teach, from whence could R' Chiya know?"

The test also indicated the knowledge of part of the students -- of those who raised their hands, were called upon, and knew the material. But this relates to one, two or at the most, three questions.

In summary: the oral test does not reflect the accomplishments of all those who did not raise their hands, nor of those who did but were not called upon. Perhaps some educators might suffice with the questions in getting a general picture of the weekly coverage, but if one wished to evaluate the learning of each student in the weekly curriculum, an oral exam failed to indicate it.

The Written Test

After all this, we went over to the written test. Every student received ten questions. This method proved to be the most effective. The entire class participated and was kept occupied. All of them had the identical questions and they couldn't bluff their way through. Either an answer was right or wrong. A written exam is the best way to get a good picture of the scholastic level of each student.

In these tests, we tried not to ask shakla vetaryo questions requiring knowledge of the flow of the argument, in other words, what Tana ploni maintained, how the gemora challenged his position, and how it resolved it. We assume that the teacher already asked questions of this nature, both orally and in written form.

Therefore the questions asked were such that the student was required to exercise his imagination. For example: in the case of there being a controversy in a law, we asked about a situation similar to that presented in the gemora. The litigants presented their case in two botei din and received two different answers. The question was, who were the sages of the respective courts, why they ruled differently, and upon what was their decision based.

Or: where there was no controversy, only different laws in circumstances that differed somewhat one from the other, the question centered on the two circumstances in which the rulings handed down were different. Why was one case ruled one way while the other one was judged differently? Upon what were the varying decisions based? Or questions that were not asked explicitly but were concluded from what seemed logically correct, and the like.

The Test and its Answers

And here were added the answers to the written test. How?

A student who finished answering the questions received a separate sheet with the correct answers on it. He was able to examine whether his answers were correct or not. He was also required to mark each question and give himself an overall grade.

He marked his own test, and in the event that there was a question which he did not know, he was able to complete the missing answers according to the answer sheet.

The test was then given over to an outsider to examine; he reviewed the test and gave his own mark.

The advantage in supplying the student with the answer and having him mark it himself is double: First, he feels he has risen to the level of examiner, which is certainly higher than merely that of a student being tested. Second, he is required to draw a comparison between the answer he wrote and the correct answer, which is an additional stage in the learning process.

Aside from this, the student who receives the correct answers emerges from the test knowing them, has gained by the test in that he has learned the answers to the questions he did not know. So this kind of test incorporates the dimension of learning. If an exam conducted in the proper way constitutes a summary of the sugya then, together with the answers, the student now knows it thoroughly and is ready to go on to a new sugya.

Another advantage is the feeling this student gets that the exam does not only serve to test his knowledge but it teaches him the great importance of knowing the material, and not going on to new material before he has fully grasped the previous material.

In this manner, one enables the weaker students who did not succeed in getting the answer right to open up the gemora and look for the answer. An answer of this sort is marked by the student himself with a peh, signifying potuach, open, and the mark is accordingly 20% downgraded.

This way, however, the student knows that there is something more important than the test itself, and that is the knowledge of the material. No one remains ignorant of what has been learned in this manner.

Self Examination

An additional approach to the test, tried in particular in the seventh and eighth grades, was the self examination.

The student is told to open up the gemora and prepare ten questions and answers upon the sugya learned that week.

This tests the student's ability to see the subject in its full scope and to prepare the questions and answers by himself.

Before such a test, the students are given an introduction telling them what kind of questions to ask. He is expected to avoid questions of give-and-take, like what the amoraim say, what the gemora asks and what it replies. He must try to change the form of questions, to generalize and not stick strictly to the text.

The marks were divided into three categories. A wrong question = 0, a question on give-and-take = 7 and the rest, 10 points apiece.

The self test did a lot to boost a student's sense of accomplishment, since it transferred him from the category of receiving to one of creating -- he prepared the questions and answers by himself.

In certain cases, the test was divided into two. For the first part, the students prepared the questions themselves, while in the second half, they had to answer questions prepared for them. In these cases, parallel or overlapping questions came up. The student prepared questions similar to those prepared for him by the examiner, and the general level of knowledge rose considerably and the answers on the tests which he was given greatly improved.

A Chabura (Essay) Exam

An additional type of exam that was tried temporarily in the eighth grade is the chabura or essay exam.

The examiner prepares an entire structured treatise composed of shitas rishonim, a dissection of their controversy, the questions asked by acharonim and their replies, and so on. The student receives a sheet upon which appears the question. For example:

The Rambam's approach;

The Raavad's approach:

The challenge of the Maggid Mishneh:

The reply of the Lechem Mishneh:

The challenge of the Shaagas Arye:

And so on. The student must fill in the blanks and explain the various approaches, questions and resolutions.

He is expected to know the approaches of the Rambam and Raavad from a separate sheet he receives upon which is photostated excerpts from their works. He is required to clarify their approaches, questions or answers.

This is how the student is expected to round out his knowledge, excerpt after excerpt, until he has prepared for himself an entire treatise on the subject.

The advantages of this type of exam are many. 1) The eighth grade student has succeeded in preparing a chabura. 2) The student has reviewed an excerpt from the rishonim or acharonim by himself and grappled with their language and style. He has understood their question or answer, which sometimes are derived from the positive to the negative or vice versa. 3) The student has single-handedly learned a topic that was not covered in class by his teacher.

This is a marvelous sense of accomplishment for the student, especially for those who are able to complete this exam in its entirety.

After they have completed the exam, the student receives the complete chabura and is able to check it against his own work and give himself a mark.

These are, in short, the different types of exams that we employ in Talmud Torah Or Mordechai, and whosoever wishes to try it is welcome to do so.

HaRav Moshe Karp is menahel of Talmud Torah Or Mordechai, Bnei Brak

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