Students at Ironi Tet High School in Tel Aviv taking the math matriculation exam
Students at Ironi Tet High School in Tel Aviv taking the math matriculation exam on Tuesday. Photo by Zohar Shitrit
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Faced with delays and complaints of overly difficult questions, Israeli students yesterday took the mathematics matriculation exam amid unusual circumstances. The difficulties owed to measures aimed at preventing foul play following the alleged theft of one exam form.

In some schools the test was delayed by one hour, after the Ministry of Education decided at the last-minute to toss out the exam which was leaked, and use an alternative test which it hastily distributed to schools via computer.

Meanwhile, police are still waiting to receive any substantial evidence that the math matriculation exam had in fact been leaked in advance, as the Education Ministry has said.

As reported by Channel 1 this week, the ministry made an official police complaint over the alleged theft of a copy of the matriculation exam. The report said a high school student whose conscience bothered him confessed that he had bought the copy, which was for four-point mathematics, the middle science level topped only by the five-point physics level.

Subsequently, the Ministry of Education decided to throw out the compromised version and use an alternative version instead. The new version was distributed online, through a secured ministry Web site. School principals were supposed to sign in using a username and password, and download the new version shortly before the test and have them printed out.

However, an hour before the exam was scheduled to begin, the Web site that the Education Ministry used to distribute the new forms crashed, resulting in delays in many schools.

The last exam began at 7 P.M., with some students complaining that the relatively late time of day had damaged their performance. The test was taken by some 80,000 10th to 12th graders.

"We tried signing in for half an hour," one principal said. "Then there were frantic calls between different schools, in the hope that someone from a nearby school was able to download the form and possibly pass it on. There was a lot of pressure because we were trying not to add to the students' stress by starting late."

The Education Ministry opened a backup Web site and also sent district managers the test forms by e-mail. But problems meant the forms had to be faxed to some schools, which started the exam as much as an hour late.

In some cases, the faxed copies were blurred, and in others, copy machines produced unclear papers. Students who started the exam late received a time extension, but the ministry could not supply exact figures on how many high schools were delayed and by how much.

According to Channel 1, the ministry became aware of the possibility that the math exam had been compromised after a student confessed buying a copy to a teacher, who reportedly confiscated the document and turned it in to Dr. Hannah Perl, in charge of mathematics examinations at the Education Ministry.

But police officers investigating the case say they have not received the document in question. Currently, police have no evidence suggesting foul play or that the math exam had indeed been leaked.

The Education Ministry confirmed to Channel 1 that the document was a genuine copy of the exam, and said that the test would be held as scheduled with different questions than the original.

Some students who took the four and five point exam complained that it was unusually difficult.

"The delay wasn't the problem," said Maor, a student at Ironi Dalet from Tel Aviv. "It was the test. It felt as though the ministry was trying to prove at our expense that no exam theft is going to work."

Nofar Cohen, another high school student, said she thought the exam was especially difficult, compared to previous years. A veteran math teacher from Tel Aviv said the students complaints need to be examined on the basis of performance levels after the tests are graded.

"The level of difficulty of a test is very subjective, and it will turn out to be possible [to reach a conclusion] only if the students' grades are significantly lower than previous years," he said.

But some students - especially those who took the three point exam - said their exam was exceptionally easy. Lee Benayoun, Noy Abergil and Sapir Cohen of Rabin High School in Be'er Sheva said their three point exam was a breeze.

"The test was delayed by over half an hour but it was very easy and the delay didn't matter all that much to us," Benayoun said.

Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar said yesterday at a conference in Ramat Hasharon that he was pleased with his ministry's performance through the leaked test affair.

"We successfully met our goal despite impossible conditions. The Education Ministry has successfully passed this test."

Ministry Director General Shimshon Shoshani said they deserved "10 points out of 10" for their performance.