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The Education Ministry yesterday released the results of last year's fifth-grade national assessment tests, and they are no cause for celebration. The average math score was a failing 56.9. Scores in English, sciences and technology were slightly higher, around 70. On the native-language test, pupils at Jewish schools scored a fair 79 points on the Hebrew test, and pupils at Arab schools scored 60.9 on the Arabic test.

The standardized tests were administered at the end of last school year in 937 schools, to 80,000 pupils in grades 2, 5 and 8. The tests cover the four core-curriculum subjects: native-language skills, mathematics, English, and science and technology. Students also were quizzed about matters relating to student-teacher relations and the "social climate" at school.

Information about eighth-grade tests was withheld because of partial participation due to teacher sanctions.

Unhappy at school

A third of fifth-graders reported dissatisfaction with their school, and 15 percent said their children had been involved in violent incidents.

Scores in all subjects reflected a great disparity between Jewish and Arab schools. On the math test (whole numbers, simple fractions, geometry and measurements), Jewish pupils averaged 61.3 points, compared to 45.9 in Arab schools. On the English test, Jewish pupils averaged 74.2; Arab pupils - 68.6. On the science and technology test, Jewish pupils averaged 72.5; Arab pupils - 60.

Nationally, gender gaps were relatively small, but girls did better than boys at Jewish schools on the Hebrew and English tests, whereas boys did better in math. At Arab schools, girls scored substantially higher than boys in all subjects.

By the numbers

Results in every subject at both Jewish and Arab schools showed a connection between the scholastic ability of fifth-graders and their socioeconomic background. In the most striking example, pupils from poor homes averaged 44.9 on the math test, whereas their peers from wealthier homes averaged 65.8.

Regarding "school climate," two-thirds of fifth-graders said they were very satisfied (a higher rate of satisfaction was registered among fifth- and sixth-graders than seventh- and eighth-graders), but only 46 percent described positive relations with their teachers, meaning feelings of respect, closeness and caring. Specifically, only 43 percent of pupils agreed with the statement: "For the most part, teachers do not behave in an insulting and hurtful manner."

Widespread bullying

Pupils were also asked to report various sorts of violence they had experienced at school during the preceding month. Around 10 percent of pupils cited serious incidents, such as being struck with an object, severely beaten or threatened; 37 percent reported lesser violent acts, such as being shoved; and 10 percent said they had been subjected to "indirect violence," such as shunning or spreading rumors.

The assessments also examined the issue of homework. More than two-thirds of pupils said teachers check assignments in class, but only about half said this was done thoroughly and meticulously. Eighty-four percent of pupils said they devote up to two hours a day to doing homework. Some 40 percent said they also receive private tutoring sessions in one or more of the assessment's core subjects, most frequently English and math.