The writer, Israel Marketing Manager at Eric Cohen Books, gives the publisher perspective on official testing changes and the implications for the development of coursebooks and materials.
Any change in testing causes shock waves through the system. Teachers, inspectors, teacher trainers and book publishers eagerly scrutinize any new document heralding change. It is their job to examine the possible implications and impact on their public and to adjust and prepare accordingly. However, changes are not always immediately transparent in content, or in outcomes.
Let's clarify this by looking at some recent changes in assessment, evaluation and testing from the point of view of the publishers. Perhaps the biggest change has been in the Bagrut. At the same time as modular exams were introduced by the Ministry, which occasioned changes in the format of the tests, the English Inspectorate launched the New Bagrut Assessment (NBA), requiring changes in the nature of testing. (See below Gordon 2001, Steiner 2003 )
The two changes are not always compatible. On the one hand, the modular exams, by their nature, test "product", i.e. students' answers to questions. Students demand practice in the format of the exams and research has proved that familiarity with format improves scores. On the other hand, the NBA assesses both "process" i.e. how something is done, in addition to "product". Coursebooks must incorporate both in order to be approved by the Ministry's Book Approval Department. Consequently, the publishers have to grapple with both issues (and quickly) as most teachers depend on books to provide them with a basic programme study in tandem with the changes.
Implicit to many of the above Bagrut changes are multiple interpretations. In the specific case of the NBA, the issue of performance-based tasks and projects and their assessment had to be addressed. In the case of the modular Bagrut exams, the available information from the Inspectorate as to the nature of the question types was limited. There was only one sample test provided. The issue of "transparency" (clarity) becomes a problem at this point. In addition, the information publishers have to go on is provided simultaneously to both teachers and publishers. This leaves little time. How then does a publisher interpret the changes and get them right?
Publishers have a responsibility to their public to interpret these changes as clearly and as accurately as possible. For example, if a publisher's interpretation of appropriate rubrics for assessing tasks in a coursebook is accepted by the Ministry's Book Approval Department, then it should be made available to the students. As students are not allowed to write in their coursebooks, rubrics for self-assessment appeared in approved workbooks as charts for students to fill in. However, as of last May, the Ministry stopped approving workbooks. Notice about this change was minimal. If books cannot be approved without assessment rubrics and pupils are not allowed to write in their books, what is a publisher to do? Put them in the Teacher's Guides and hope that the school has a budget for photocopying? This is a small example of the frustrations involved.
Another related issue is one of listening comprehension. Although Bagrut listening questions have changed minimally, on the actual exam, students are required not only to circle the correct answer, but also to complete a sentence and sometimes to fill in a chart. In order to practice this, it is logical to answer questions as the pupil listens. But if the pupil cannot write in the book and does not have a workbook, what is to be done?
And woe to a publisher who, at the request of the public, publishes a Bagrut test book where the level of the questions does not equal the level of the questions on the subsequent exam. The infamous module E has had not a few changes in level, which are not predictable from the benchmarks and limited sample test that was supplied.
Another problem with test preparation occurs with the Meitzav exams, which are currently taken in the 5th and 8th grades. Examples of past tests are available through the English Inspectors' Site.
These tests are supposed to be taken with minimum test-specific preparation (i.e. preparing students for specific test items-vocabulary, kinds of questions, etc.-that are likely to be tested). But how should this backwash into the coursebooks? i.e. how should they help prepare students for this test?
For example, in the Grade Five Meitzav exam, pupils are tested in writing, reading and listening. Some pupils start to learn English in the first grade, others in the second or third and still others in the fourth grade. How does a publisher produce a range of books for different entry levels which will ensure that even a fourth grader starter will achieve the necessary level for a *November/December Meitzav exam in the fifth grade? This is not something the Ministry requires us to do, but it is something teachers expect.
The publisher is often in the position of interpreter of Ministry requirements and teacher needs. For the good of our pupils, the blending of both to the satisfaction of student and teacher needs is the ideal. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the area of assessment and testing. Transparency and the availability of timely information are tantamount to this outcome. Publishers too are constantly tested- the criteria for their evaluation and assessment change frequently.
*As I was completing this article, the information that there will be changes in the format and the timing of the Meitzav tests in 2007 arrived.
Gordon C, J. Kemp, T. Levi and D. Toperoff: Assessment Guidelines for the English Curriculum 2001. State of Israel Ministry of Education, Jerusalem 2002.
Steiner, J. et al: Prerequisite Knowledge, Skills and Strategies for Achieving the Benchmarks at the Foundation Level. Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport, English Inspectorate, Jerusalem 2005.
Steiner, J: New Bagrut Assessment NBA Handbook Revised Edition, Jerusalem 2003. www.anglit.net