High school students taking an exam.
High school students taking their matriculation (bagrut) exam. Photo by Alon Ron
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For the first time in four years, no improvement is discernible in high school matriculation exam results around the country. Contrary to Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar's promise of "gradual, consistent improvement in the matriculation test scores," the past four years have seen a slight drop of 0.2 percent in the test results.

Education Ministry results released on Wednesday indicate that during the 2010-2011 school year, less than half (48.1 percent) of the country's high school seniors passed the full set of matriculation exams.

However, among pupils enrolled in schools where the exam is taken, there was a 1.2 percent rise that year in exam success. About 60 percent of pupils in these schools pass the full battery of matriculation exams. Close to 20 percent of the country's 17-year-olds never make it to their senior year of high school. There has also been a two percent drop among this age group in taking the matriculation exams.

A significant rise in exam success was recorded among the ultra-Orthodox. However, just 0.7 percent of Haredi 17-year-olds, or 1,425 pupils, passed the battery of matriculation exams. Education Ministry officials say that decisions to recognize various forms of exams taken by young Haredi women as part of the matriculation curriculum will lead to improvement in the overall performance of Haredim on the exams.

In 2010-2011, there was a slight, 0.4 percent increase in matriculation exam scores among Jewish 17-year-old students (excluding Haredim ). During the same school year, there was a dramatic 4% drop in the number of Arab pupils enrolled in the senior year of high school. More than 20 percent of Arab pupils (not taking into account East Jerusalem ) do not study in the school system for the full 12 years. There was also a drop in the percentage of Arab pupils who register for matriculation exams.

In the Jewish sector (excluding the ultra-Orthodox ), 68 percent of high school seniors pass matriculation exams, whereas the figure among Arab seniors is just 50%. Among Druze, just 47 percent of 17-year-olds pass matriculation exams, while the figure for Bedouin is just 29.7 percent (though this 2010-2011 figure for Bedouin pupils represents a 1.5 percent increase compared to the preceding year ).

Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar told a news conference that "among the entire age group in question, there was a 0.2% drop [in matriculation exam success], and such results do not satisfy me, yet there can be no retreat from the goal of consistent improvement in these exams." Sa'ar added: "We have not found answers to all questions in the school system - but there are also signs of continued positive trends in education."

Sa'ar expressed doubt about a finding that half of young Israelis lack complete matriculation certificates. The data released yesterday, he explained, do not incorporate out-of-school matriculation exam courses and programs, and once these are taken into account, more than half the country's young people have the certificates.

Starting next year, Sa'ar said, there will be a change in the way the matriculation exam data is compiled - essentially "irrelevant reference groups," such as some Haredim and East Jerusalem pupils, will not be included in the tallies.

"For ideological reasons," he said, "persons in these groups do not register for matriculation exams, and so they should not be taken into account when total figures about matriculation exam certificates are computed."