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The Education Ministry is set to change the system by which points are counted in the math matriculation exam, to provide a "safety net" allowing students to pass the test even if they do not sit for the whole thing.

According to the new system - to be implemented in some 100 high schools next year - students who only answer the first of three segments of the level 5 or 4 mathematics exam (the two highest levels), will be able to receive a grade based on that segment alone, which contains only material covered by students sitting for the Level 3 exam.

Until now, those who did not finish all three segments of the test received no grade at all. In many cases, this meant it was impossible for them to receive their matriculation certificate.

The present system was harshly criticized after it came into use four years ago, although it was intended to help and encourage students taking the lower level of the exams to move up to a higher level.

Dr. Ariyeh Locker, chairman of the High School Principals Association, said the old system created "ongoing frustration among the students. The idea had been to 'pull upward' weaker students, but everyone has their limits.

Not everyone can 'jump' even if they very much want to.

Many of the students at Level 3 failed because some of it contained Level 4 material. Now the course of studies will be determined by the students' achievements over the year, their aspirations, and recommendations of the pedagogic team," Locker said.

During this summer's matriculation tests, an experiment will be conducted in 85 schools regarding the new testing structure, and it will be expanded to additional schools next year.

Since segments of the test according to the new system will no longer contain questions common to the various levels, the Education Ministry expects success rates to rise.

"At present some of the students are unable to manage with the questionnaire that contains problems from the higher levels," an Education Ministry official said. "According to the new system, each segment will be suited to the level of study."

Higher level students who complete only the first segment will be graded only on that one, and can later sit for an exam on the second segment, receive the appropriate grade, and so on.