According to a 2009 survey released Tuesday by the Organization for Economic Coordination and Development (OECD), Israeli youth ranked 36 in reading and 41 in science and mathematics out of the 65 participating countries.
The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) survey, based on the compiled results of over half a million students in more than 70 economies, tested 15-year-olds in both reading and mathematics, and also highlighted the difference between girls and boys.
Israel climbed four places since the ranking in 2008 in reading, and jumped over 16 places in the sciences, from 57 in 2008 to 41 in 2009.
The Israel survey was conducted in March and tested over 5,000 students from 170 schools across the country.
Education minister Gideon Saar said in response to the survey results that Israel has made a huge leap in its accomplishments, but the gaps between the Jewish and Arab demographics cannot be ignored.
The survey noted that the strongest performance in both tests were in Korea and Finland, followed by Hong Kong, Singapore, Canada, New Zealand and Japan.
In the fields of mathematics and the sciences, there was no significant change, leaving Israel at the bottom of the middle third of ranked countries. In mathematics, the Israeli student's average score was 447, compared to the international average of 496.
The percentage of Israeli students that excel is only about half of the international figure, and the percentage of Israeli students that performed poorly was 39%, compared to an international rate of 22%.
The countries whose students scored similarly to Israel's students are Dubai, Turkey and Serbia. Between 2006 and 2009, there was an increase of only 5 points in the average mark of Israel students. The gap between Jewish students and Arab students was about 100 points.
In the sciences, the average Israeli score was 455 points, compared to the international average of 501 points. Again, in this category, the percentage of Israelis that excelled was only half of the percentage of international students that excelled, and the percentage of Israeli students that performed poorly was much greater than the international average, 33% to 18%.
Between the most recent test and the previous test, there had been an improvement of only a single percent by Israeli students, whose performance ranked between Dubai and Turkey.
At the Tel Aviv press conference where the figures were announced, Education Minister Saar said, "If we isolate the Hebrew-speakers, we see that the students' achievements are above the OECD average. The Arab sector also registered an improvement, although not as great."
Saar added, "We cannot ignore the vast gaps between Jews and Arabs, in all subjects. We must invest specifically in the Arab sector, and we will increase our efforts in this area."
The PISA test also looked at the learning environment of youth, and especially at their reading habits. The statistics reveal that 35% of students do not read at all for their own enjoyment, and 27% read only half an hour a day or less. Similar statistics were reported in the other OECD countries.
Breaking down statistics by gender revealed that the percentage of boys that do not read at all is much higher than the percentage of girls that do not read at all - 45% to 25% - and the percentage of girls that read more than an hour a day is twice that of boys who read more than an hour a day, 30% compared to 15%.
75% of students stated that they read newspapers, compared to 39% who read magazines, 30% who read fine literature, and 26% who read reference books. In all questions that inquired into how much teachers encouraged reading among their students, the Israeli average was lower than the international average.
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