classroom - Daniel Bar-On - October 22 2010
Elementary school students in class at the ORT school in Givat Ram Oct. 22 2010 Photo by Daniel Bar-On
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Elementary school appears go be the most "violent" environment for children, compared to junior-high and high school, in contrast to prevailing opinion, the Meitzav exams taken last year show.

The Meitzav exams - a standardized test measuring Israeli students' achievements in fifth through ninth grades - also show persistently large gaps between Jews and Arabs and between rich and poor. Nonetheless, Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar said yesterday at a news conference in Tel Aviv the exam results are "encouraging" and reflect growing achievements.

Teachers and students were asked about the social climate in school as part of the Meitzav exams. Fifteen percent of the students in fifth to eighth grades reported they were involved in some violent incident at least once during the month before the survey was held, compared to 11 percent of students in seventh to ninth grades and 6 percent in 10th to 11th grades. These incidents referred to all kinds of violence, from physical violence to indirect violence such as spreading rumors and imposing a social boycott.

However, junior-high students reported the highest number of incidents of noise and disturbances in the classroom and disrespect for teachers.

The average marks achieved by eighth graders in the Meitzav exams last year was 47 points. Grades were a little better in other subjects - 57 points in science and technology, 66 in English and 71 in Hebrew (students in the Arab community averaged 65 points in Arabic ).

To enable comparing the grades of various years the figures are calibrated to counterbalance the possible effect of the exam's difficulty. The grade scale ranges from 200 to 800 points, using the national average of three years ago as the starting point for the comparison (500 points ). On the basis of these figures, fifth grade students last year averaged 529 points for mathematics, 524 for science and technology, 521 for Hebrew (539 for Arabic ) and 508 for English.

The eighth-grade students averaged 511 for mathematics, 522 for science and technology, 538 for Hebrew (513 for Arabic ) and 513 for English.

Some 111,000 students, maingly from fifth and eighth grades, took part in last year's Meitzav exams. In addition, some 25,000 second-grade students were examined in their eloquence in Hebrew or Arabic, respectively.

Comparing the last few years' figures shows that fifth grade students improved in mathematics and their mother tongue last year, compared to the previous year. No change was registered in science and technology grades.

Eighth-grade students, in contrast, improved in English and sciences, while Arab students fared no better than they did before in these subjects, but did worse in mathematics and their mother tongue. Compared to the first measurement, made four years ago, the recent data reflects improvement in all the subjects and all the grades.

"The data is good and encouraging," Sa'ar said yesterday at the news conference. "We set out to improve the grades and such a trend can be seen. I believe we will see this trend continue in the international exams as well, at the end of the current school year."

"The results continue to be positive in almost all the subjects - mother tongue, mathematics, sciences, English and technology," said Michal Beller, director general of the Education Ministry's National Authority for Educational Measurement and Evaluation (RAMA ).

Last year's exams indicated significant gaps between Jewish and Arab students in mathematics, science and technology, and English. The exams in mother tongue are different so cannot be compared.

In the fifth grades the gap between the Jewish and Arab students is 61 points while in the eighth grade there was a 60-point difference in English in favor of the Jewish students. Similar gaps were found in previous years.

The gaps between rich and poor were reflected throughout the years in the achievements of students in all subjects. For example, in the fifth grade the gap in science and technology between the rich and poor reaches 67 points.

While in science and technology, mathematics and Hebrew the gaps remained steady for years, in English they widened. In the fifth grade the gaps in English reached 72 points and in Mathematics 104 points.

The exams for second graders showed 74 percent of the Jewish students were eloquent in their mother tongue, compared to 69 percent of the Arab students.

More than two-thirds of the students reported a generally positive feeling toward school. The rate of students reporting "close and caring" relations with their teachers descends with age - 63 percent in fifth-sixth grades, 43 percent in seventh-ninth grades and 37 percent in 10th-11th grades. The figures also show that 40 percent of fifth- to ninth-grade students take private tutoring in at least one of the subjects examined, the most common subjects being English and mathematics.