The Education Ministry exerts heavy pressure on teachers to ensure students pass their matriculation exams with high marks, and measures teachers by the number of students who pass the exams and the grades they receive, a senior ministry official said.
This was written in response to an open letter published two months ago by three history professors criticizing the level and structure of the history matriculation exam.
The questions "should reflect society's expectations - knowledge, skills, thinking and values. But disappointingly, [the questions test] neither skill nor thought, values nor appraisals. The exam is limited to a few questions whose answers require only memorization," wrote Prof. Eyal Naveh of Tel Aviv University, Dr. Gadi Rauner of Tel Aviv University and the Open University, and Aryeh Kizel of the University of Haifa and Oranim Academic College.
Their letter, which was published in Haaretz on July 13, stated that the exam questions had not been changed in 20 or 30 years.
Michael Yaron, supervisor of history instruction at the Education Ministry, and Hanna Yablonka, history professor at Ben-Gurion University and a history-instruction advisor in the ministry, dismissed the criticism.
In a letter to history teachers, they wrote that every question on the exam had two tasks - one descriptive and relatively simple and the other more complicated.
The exam's structure was "meant to ensure that students who still have difficulty dealing with complicated tasks can score a 60 or 70 if they answer the descriptive questions properly, so that their way is not blocked after their military service," they wrote.
The two wrote that the criticism ignores the context in which the teachers work.
"In almost every school the student body is heterogeneous and the number of students per class is sometimes 40 or even more. The system sets a double objective for the teachers and principals. Each student must complete 12 grades and their matriculation exams. This policy is accompanied by heavy pressure on the teachers to ensure the students receive high marks on the exams," they wrote.
Ministry officials in charge of history studies said that history-instruction hours have been reduced in recent years. Another thing that should be taken into account is that"students tend to use e-mail and SMS language."
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