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The gap between wealthier and poorer communities is becoming more obvious in terms of percentages of 12th graders passing their matriculation exams, according to figures released by the Education Ministry yesterday.

The town with the highest number of matriculating students was Shoham in the center of the country - 85.5 percent, with Kochav Yair, northeast of Kfar Sava, just behind with 85.4 percent.

The lowest achievements in the Jewish sector were in the ultra-Orthodox communities of Betar Ilit and Bnei Brak, where only 6.5 and 9.8 percent of twelfth graders, respectively, matriculated.

The data is for the 2009/2010 school year for communities of more than 10,000 inhabitants.

The national percentage of students who pass their matriculation exams stands at 48.2 percent, 2.2 percent higher than the previous year.

The percentages do not include dropouts; according to the most updated figures available, one in five 17-year-olds are not enrolled in the 12th grade.

Only wealthier towns are found among the 10 first places in matriculating students, including towns found in the Southern Sharon Regional Council, Ra'anana and Tel Mond. Many of these towns have claimed first place in this area for several years, merely switching places with each other from time to time.

Despite its place atop the list, the percentage of matriculating students in Shoham has actually dropped 1.7 percent.

At the bottom of the list are 150 Arab and ultra-Orthodox communities. In addition to Betar Ilit and Bnei Brak are Jisr al-Zarqa, Modi'in Ilit, Kalansua and Lod.

Five weeks ago, Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar and his director general, Shimshon Shoshani, presented preliminary figures on matriculation success, showing an increase for the second year running, as well as more students in the 12th grade and more students sitting the exams.

However, the national figures can conceal the gaps among groups. For example, the figures released yesterday may indicate that the greater success is due mainly to higher achievements in wealthier communities. The figures show that the average percentage of matriculating students jumped from about 64.5 percent two years ago to about 70.5 percent last year, while the average in middle income (61.7 percent ) and poorer communities (50.5 percent ) were almost unchanged.

As opposed to previous years, the Education Ministry did not release figures on the matriculation pass-rate percentage by socioeconomic status of the communities. The Education Ministry said it did not make the calculation this time.

In a report released a few months ago, the Adva Center analyzed matriculation percentages over the past five years, showing a continuing decline in matriculating students living in outlying towns and in the Arab sector (6.8 percent and 7.8 percent, respectively ).

Yesterday's figures reveal that the greatest improvement in percentages of matriculating students were in communities in the Jordan Valley and the Arab town of Iksal - around 22 percent each - while the greatest decline in matriculating students were in Modi'in Ilit and Ariel, 15.1 percent and 13.8 percent, respectively.