Police trace math test leak to Education Ministry question writer, teacher and student at Technion
A member of the Education Ministry's examinations committee is one of three people suspected of leaking this year's math matriculation exam, police said yesterday. The other two suspects in the leak, which led to a massive scramble by the ministry to replace the test last week, are a private math tutor and a student at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology.
Police identified the suspects as Rachel Kedem, a veteran math teacher who serves on the ministry's committee; Erez Cohen, the tutor, who also lectures at the Technion's college prep institute; and Kyril Ruhovitz, a student of Cohen's at the school.
All three have been questioned under caution over the last few days, and Ruhovitz was arrested for a day, but then released.
Police believe there is enough evidence to indict them, and will decide exactly which offenses to recommend they be charged with in the coming days.
Police suspect that the leak occurred when Kedem asked Cohen, an old friend, to help her solve some of the questions proposed for the exam - a gross violation of the committee's secrecy rules. She then submitted Cohen's solutions to the committee as her own, police said.
Kedem, police believe, never intended that the questions be leaked to the Internet, but Cohen now had possession of them. The next step occurred when Ruhovitz asked Cohen to help his younger brother on the math exam.
Cohen responded by giving Ruhovitz the questions in his possession. As far as is known, he never intended the questions to go beyond Ruhovitz's brother. But Ruhovitz immediately understood that he had valuable material in his possession, and began selling it for approximately NIS 1,000 a pop. According to Gilad Bahat of the Jerusalem District Police's fraud squad, the exact price varied: Those closer to Ruhovitz got discounts on the test.
Then, students who bought the exam from Ruhovitz began selling it to others as well. With each successive sale, the price rose, as each seller sought to turn a profit. Ultimately, police believe, hundreds of students either purchased the questions or saw them for free courtesy of a friend.
Finally, one purchaser posted the questions on Facebook - which is how the Education Ministry says it learned of the leak. The ministry then decided to scrap the original exam and instead use the exam written for a July retest. That allowed the test to take place last week as planned.
However, it now turns out Cohen also helped Kedem write the questions for the retest.
Moreover, police said, their investigation indicates that some of the questions from the last math exam, which took place a few months ago, may also have been leaked.
But they have not uncovered any evidence that matriculation exam questions in any other subject were leaked - something the ministry had initially feared.
When the leak was first discovered, ministry officials insisted that it had not been an inside job and pointed fingers at either someone at the Government Press, which prints the exam, or someone in the postal service, which distributes the exams to schools nationwide.
The discovery that the culprit was actually a ministry employee - and a member of the elite committee that prepares the exams to boot - represents a serious black eye for officials.
One police source said the incident had revealed a "huge breach" in the ministry's secrecy procedures, and the ministry must now figure out how to revise these procedures to seal the breach. Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar yesterday vowed to do so.
Sa'ar also said that if the police indeed conclude that questions from the earlier test were leaked, the ministry will reexamine all the grades awarded on that exam. "We shouldn't punish students who didn't sin, but if we receive any indication that a student obtained his grade by fraud, we will act," he said.
In addition to the three principal suspects, police have questioned numerous other people, including many of those who bought the exam questions and, in some cases, sold them onward. Police are also trying to determine whether Cohen leaked the questions only to Ruhovitz, or to some of the students he tutored privately as well, in an effort to raise their grades.
Police said that Kedem would probably be charged with failing to keep an official secret, and might also be charged with breach of trust and perhaps even stealing from her employer.
Kedem declined to speak with reporters yesterday. Cohen denied the allegations against him, saying he thought the questions Kedem gave him were for an initial draft, and had been omitted from the final version of the exam.
"A friend came to me and asked me to help her solve some exercises," he said in an interview with Channel 2 television. "If I had known [that these were questions from the exam], I would never have taken part in the thing."
Ruhovitz told Haaretz, "I didn't do anything they're saying and I didn't sell anything."
The Education Ministry said in a statement that "the integrity of exams is a principle that must be backed by deeds, as the ministry indeed did via the actions it took with regard to the exam: filing a complaint to the police, and the decision not to hold the exam in its original format, based on the questions that were leaked, sold and traded to the examinees."
It also said the police's findings showed that the ministry's decision to replace the exam at the last moment had been a correct one. This decision had been harshly criticized in the aftermath of the exam, when it turned out that many schools had trouble downloading the new questions from the ministry's website, forcing students to sit and wait for hours to take the test.