Geometry is one of Israeli eighth-graders' worst subjects, according to a recently released Education Ministry breakdown of the scores for the 2010 Meitzav subject tests.
The average score for the geometry section of the eighth-grade math exam is lower than it has been in at least three years, dropping to 34 out of 100, from 38 in 2009 and 36 in 2008.
"The problem is that we're not recruiting enough good teachers, which is manifested in the results," said mathematician Azriel Levy, a professor emeritus at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and chairman of the Education Ministry's advisory committee on teaching math. He said the committee has not discussed the math results.
Hagar Gal, who heads the mathematics and physics department at the David Academic College of Education, confirmed that there is reason to think teachers may be at least part of the problem.
"A large proportion of the teachers who teach math haven't been trained to do so," she said.
But a source familiar with middle-school math classes said that while the Education Ministry is constantly pointing the finger at someone else, it knows that geometry poses a problem for Israeli students and hasn't quite figured out what to do about it.
"Every time, the Education Ministry blames something else: teachers who haven't been trained well, curricula that aren't up-to-date and a shortage of classroom time," he said. "These are factors that certainly have an influence, but the bottom line is that despite all the programs and initiatives, in which a lot of money has been invested, Israeli students are still failing geometry."
The recent breakdown of Meitzav scores sheds new light on the overall scores for each of the four exam subjects - mother tongue (Hebrew or Arabic ), English, science and math - which were released in late 2010.
The Education Ministry focused on the achievements of fifth-graders, who fared better in geometry than the eighth-graders, scoring between 52 and 63 in recent years on both the overall math exam and the geometry section. The scores are not directly comparable, however, since the two grades are tested on different subject matter.
Noting that there hasn't been a dramatic rise or fall in eighth-grade geometry scores in the last few years, the ministry said the numbers indicate stability.
"Over the last two years there has been a program to strengthen the science subjects, and thousands of classroom hours have been allocated for math students," the ministry said in a statement. "We believe that in the coming years we will see an additional improvement in the student achievements on the Meitzav, including in math."
The average eighth-grade score on last year's Meitzav math exam overall was 47. A quarter of all eighth-graders - 21 percent of students in Jewish schools and 34 percent of those in Arab schools - scored between 0 and 26 on the math exam.
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