More than 16,000 Israeli elementary and junior-high students go to schools with the lowest scores on the nationwide achievement tests in 2011 and 2012, according to research carried out by TheMarker. Most of these low-performing institutions are in the Arab and national-religious school networks in the north and south of the country, in Israel's poorest communities.
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The Meitzav nationwide standardized achievement test results in these schools are low not only when compared to the national average, but also compared to other schools in the same communities drawing from the same socioeconomic groups.
The Education Ministry is aware of the situation in these schools, as well as other schools whose performance was studied in previous years but not made public. The ministry itself performed the statistical analysis. For years the ministry has refused to release precise figures on the country's worst schools, and, as a result of the recent decision to suspend the Meitzav exams, this information will remain unavailable for years to come.
The study focused on 45 schools with the lowest Meitzav grades in math, English, science and language (each student is tested in his or her native tongue, either Hebrew or Arabic). In addition to the low test scores, students at these schools were more likely to report dissatisfaction with the institution, and the incidence of in-school violence was likely to exceed the national average.
The actual number of poorly performing schools is much higher than indicated by the study, which included only those schools where the Meitzav - which is given in each school every four years - was taken in the past two years. In addition, it does not include schools in the ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism school networks, most of which refuse to administer the exam.
Of the 45 schools examined, 21 are in the south, many of them in Bedouin communities; 13 are in the north, nine in the central region and the Jerusalem area, and two are in the Sharon region. Some communities had more than one school on the list; in one community, eight of its schools were listed.
All of the schools detailed draw from communities that are in the sixth lowest of the 10 socioeconomic clusters to which the Central Bureau of Statistics assigns each community in Israel. Most of the schools are in communities in the lowest four clusters.
How badly are students at the worst schools performing on the Meitzav? At one of the state-religious schools on the list, the average grade in science for eighth-graders was 14 (out of 100), compared to 45 for all Israeli schools and 47 for schools where Hebrew is the language of instruction. Ninety percent of the school's students failed the exam, and none of them scored higher than 60. Around a quarter of the students at the school reported having been involved in a violent incident in the month prior to the exam, and nearly half reported frequent exposure to violence, including being punched and kicked - more than half the national average.
Israel's public education system is considered one of the most unequal in the West. Students whose parents' socioeconomic situation is better perform better scholastically. But in the worst-performing schools, this divide is not only perpetuated but made deeper. At one of the schools on the list, students from poor families scored an average of 35 on the science section of the Meitzav, compared to an average score of 48 nationwide for students from a similar socioeconomic background. For middle-class students, the average was 44, while the overall national average, as noted above, was 45.