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(        Confessions of an Oral Bagrut Tester          )


I have just come back from a harrowing experience.   It’s not like I haven’t ever been harrowed before.  I have, in my short 51 years, lived through getting run over by a runaway Scoda van, escaping from a burning house, the bombing of Beirut in ‘82, bombing  by  Saddam in 1991, and the bombing of Naserallah whenever he’s on the rag .*   But for sheer bravery in the face, these trials and ordeals don’t hold a Havdalla candle to plight of presenting the Oral Bagrut grades, at the end of a grueling day of testing, to a hostile school  staff  who kindly request implore nudge and bulldoze you to change them.

          According to the Inspectorate, this is not supposed to happen.  “The tester’s grade is final,” says the director’s bulletin (‘Hoser Man-call’) in its prim fussy little voice.  Yeah, right!

And according to four governments ago, our enemies were making  peace with us, miluim would soon be cut down to two afternoons a year, and we would dine on cuscouse in Damascous for evermore.


            How does the Oral Bagrut work?  First, a  tester from one school is assigned to test in another, usually not a neighboring school.  It’s all worked out in a master plan so that no two testers shall test each other’s schools.  This is to prevent a hypothetical situation wherein if you scratch my pupils, I’ll scratch yours back.  Apparently, once upon a time, all the teachers in the region used to meet once a year, and furtively pair off, like teenagers at a junior high school dance, and work out little ‘kom-bee-not’ a word deriving from the German, KOM , get a little closer to me baby and the Persian BEENOT lets see how we can make sure everybody does NOT get less than a BEE, i.e. 85%.    You had a whole ‘shichvot’ of kids who could barely walk into a bar and say, “Look my eyes” to a person of opposite sex, but they all got through the Oral.  And the ones from Kiriat Perry-ferrya received an extra 10% to boot.  They even got their backs scratched.


          So:  Picture the intrepid tester,  first thing in the morning, sallying forth,  an optimistic smile on her face, into foreign territory.  She may have taken a day off work, without pay.  She may have driven or bussed in, on her own ticket.  She is met by the department head and shown to a classroom, usually cold, messy and dismal. The students to be tested are already piling up against the door, and she can smell their tension. She

* the rest of the month, the rag is on him



sets up her papers and forms, and calls in the first one.   The procedure starts with ‘The Interview,’   a cross between a job interview and a blind date:  Do you have a hobby, Do you like soft music, What is a good age for having children, How can BIBI solve the country’s economic woes in 48 hours?  No.  That last question is unfair.  Take 50 hours.

            At some point during this  interview, which is supposed to last about three minutes, unless the pupil is extraordinarily hesitant,  or  really  flirtatious and cute,  in which case it can go on till the janitor comes to lock up*—the tester poses a question on a subject which the testee has shown enthusiasm for, and the latter is supposed to be carried off on wings of social interaction, gliding effortlessly into extended speech for another 60 seconds, coming to a soft landing at your feet.

          This doesn’t always go off as planned;  often their engines sputter and stall around the second sentence and they  plummet earthwards.

          Either way, you’ve just completed  the easy part.  Now it’s time for ‘The Role Play.’  Once upon a time, it was a real role play between the tester and the pupil.***  I will mention only two of the hazards involved:

A.                             The tester cannot fulfil the rigorous, emotionally challenging, real- time demands of a role play situation and remain clear- headed enough to evaluate the other person. And

B.                             It is far too easy for the tester, as well as the adolescent, so overwrought and painfully eager to succeed , to  fall too far into the role and not pull out in time.  A modest  example taken from the Tveria Police records is the one which began ‘A parent remarks critically on her daughter’s clothing;’  turned into a brawl which spilled outside to the nearby Tayyellet and ended in a wild shopping spree.  The tester didn’t snap back til the next morning and couldn’t figure out why she had a closet full of ‘belly button’ T-shirts.


The new method, which has been running for about 6 years, goes like this:  The pupil is presented with a card that ‘cues’ him for a situation in which he must pose ten questions.  If he asks “Where you buy?”  and “Where you live?” ten times  instead of “Where did you buy?” and “Where do you live?” the tester cannot circle more than 26 out of a possible 50 on the  grading form.  Thanks to a few misplaced

*     No.  This never really happens.  Certainly not to me, although there is a case on record of  a  pupil who proposed to the   tester during the roll play and she held him to it until a Rabbi could be called with a gett.


*** once, during my frivolous early years, I bought some lachmaniot, fresh bread rolls, and sent them to our tester with the message:  For the roll play.  Not to be outdone, he  threw one at Hagit Levi, the first student to be tested.  “Here’s a roll.  Let’s Play!”     That was 15 years ago.  Hagit is still has night fears. 

auxiliaries she has forfeited 25% of the grade.  Whereas the old method gave everybody at least 60 and usually much more,  it is now painfully easy to fail.  And this is where things get a little sticky.

          Says the inspector’s manual, a sort of Tester’s Kitsur Shulhan Aruch, ‘the tester should come with a wide variety of Cue cards.’

You, of course, as an English teacher, still believe in rules.  You have a strong belief in your own integrity and your mission in life -- to actually teach the language, so you have invested oodles of class time with your own pupils making sure they can handle any Cue card that their tester might throw at them.  But when you come as a tester, and pull out your plastic envelope with ‘a wide variety of cards’ nicely printed out and pasted onto neat little strips of construction paper, a wide variety of local teachers  place a wide variety of meaty palms down over your cards and say, ‘our pupils have prepared these cards,’   clearly implying, ‘and what are YOU planning on doing about it??  You’re all alone and a long way from home!’ *+*

          And you dumbly take the proffered deck,  and the first one says, “Interview somebody on his or her 100th birthday.” You flip to the next one and it says, ’50 New Shequalim 50.‘

          No.  I’m kidding.   I’m not saying someone bribed me to make the test friendlier.  Nor am I saying that a recalcitrant  tester from Meron returned home in April, 2001 with bruises on her face and arms.


          So you make the decision, your pride or your hide. Now you’ve agreed on whose cards to use, but what happens next?  No two authorities agree on this.    Should the pupil take the lead in the role play, as in the following example?


          Miss International,  do you hobb any heavies?  Do you enjoin your    work?  Were you abroad? Did you do fun in Europa? Od hamesh, nahon? –

-- not even giving you a chance to answer.  (for the record, the answers are, One,  Even if I were role pretending to role play Dana, how do I know what his hobbies are, and Two   it would take a team of medical experts to determine whether I have been a broad or not, and Three   this cue card says   Ask the doctor about the medical condition of your friend who has just been blown up by a suicide bombing alte zachen man; what the heck tree did you drop out of?

*+*I saw an amazing variant of this when I tested at the Danny Kaye College for Jugglers and Magicians, when I caught on that they had switched my cards for their own deck of 20 identical cards: (‘ Interview Sarit Haddad while standing on one leg—hers’)

But the testee fires back testily in Hebrew, “I studied ‘interview a favorite singer,’ and all my friends in the McKeefe school down the block did interview Dana International and I’m GOING TO INTERVIEW DANA INTERNATIONAL!“  And you decide to let her because all this arguing is starting to muss your hair do.

             What happens ‘in the field’ is that some pupils memorize  10 prefabricated questions by heart, while others spend whole evenings actually improving their speaking skills by rehearsing for dozens of possible test situations. 

            Another unresolved question among testers is, should the tester provide a real answer to the question, so that the next question is a semi authentic reaction? As in this example, for example:

             Pupil:  So, when is your sister getting married?

            Tester:  As soon as she and the baby are discharged from the hospital.

            Pupil: D-uh!

            Tester:  Aha!  Third one today!

Some testers still try to make it a role play, while others just let the questions role by, and use the time to do their nails, have that free sandwich or davven Mincha.

            Does this mean the system is not fair?  Maybe not, but it teaches an important lesson, which the kids had better learn before they join the army in another two months.  So much in life depends on  how they deal the cards.


            It’s now 3:00 PM.  You’ve drunk 10 cups of lukewarm coffee with the wrong number of sugars and your bladder is backed up to your epiglottis.  The last kid you tested, your vision was so blurred that you snapped, One at a time!   Just by looking at him you  almost said:  You like playing the computer and watching TV.  You have a girlfriend and want to go into Golani.  36 from 50.  But you caught yourself in time.  And now, the last pupil is finished.  It’s over.


No it isn’t.  Because, now, you’re being tested.  In trot the teacher, the Rakezzet, the principal.  At first, the principal   introduces herself and you snap y, ‘Please re phrase that as a question.’ Then everybody gets down to business.  They bring in a pile of roadmap sized forms. And they start adding up your grades.  And suddenly, frowns spread across their faces.

            There are some schools which respect the integrity and professionalism of the testers and leave those grades alone.  There are also some drivers in this country who signal to announce a turn and don’t shine their highbeams into your eyes at night.  Maybe if I’m good, and eat all my daisa, I’ll even see one someday.


            --Do you really feel that Pazit Eevli deserved to get only 61?  

            --Do you know that her father was operated on this morning?

            --When she was four years old, she was taunted in an elevator by a UN soldier                         in English?

            --I’m sure a teacher of your vast experience  can find a better solution. 

            -- After all, we wouldn’t want another school suicide on our hands?


 Why do I find this so humiliating and  threatening?  After all, what can they do to me?  Not sign the forms?  So  I won’t get the 78 shekel after 60% taxes,  to be paid next October, for a full day's work?  So they’ll tell everybody what a bad tester I am and will never invite me back?  Well, Gee!


But for whatever reason, this is a most unpleasant  experience and the  scars it leaves are deep.  Months from now, you will have dreams about a hand reaching up out of lonely grave clutching a grading form.   I’m not going to tell you how I dealt with such a situation when I tested this year.  I’ll just say they were finally willing to unlock the gate to the parking lot.


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Barry Silverberg

April 10, 2003