Education Minister Unveils Plan to Streamline School Testing, College Admission Requirements

Shay Piron promises reduction of matriculation exams, more school autonomy.

Education Minister Shay Piron on Wednesday rolled out a long-term plan for education reform, the main provisions of which were reported by Haaretz on Tuesday. These include reducing the number of matriculation exams, eliminating psychometric tests as a requirement for college admission and giving schools, teachers and students more autonomy in determining curriculum.

Under the plan, matriculation exams, known as bagrut, will be administered starting in 10th grade, rather than 11th.

“Bagrut exams have become the education system’s golden calf, dictating learning content and method,” Piron said at the news conference in Tel Aviv. “They develop a culture of summaries. Reducing the number of exams will focus study and enable multicultural studies in schools.”

Piron said it will be a gradual, years-long process that will start with reducing the number of exams given in each subject.

The next step is decreasing the number of subjects for which testing is mandatory. This proposal has drawn public criticism and will take some years to implement. Education Ministry Director General Michal Cohen said that although the number of exam subjects will not be reduced immediately, the number of exams each student is required to take will drop.

“A student who currently takes 21 study units [credit hours] will now take 10 exams instead of 15,” she said.

“For example, until now students were required to take two matriculation exams in grammar. Now they will only have one. In English and math they will have to take two exams instead of the current three and the number of elective exams will be limited,” Cohen said.

Bagrut or psychometric, your choice

In addition to the matriculation exams, nearly all institutions of higher education require applicants to take a psychometric exam, the equivalent of the SAT in the United States. In part because most Israeli students start college relatively late, after at least two years of compulsory military service, many spend thousands of shekels on test preparation courses — and a full academic year studying for and taking the exam.

Under the new plan, prospective students could submit either their bagrut scores or their psychometric scores with their college applications, at least for certain courses of study. Currently, college admission is based in part on the average score from both types of test.

The Education Ministry is in talks with the country’s university heads on the three matriculation exams on which admission will be based. They are expected to be English, the student’s mother tongue (usually Hebrew or Arabic) and math.

Prof. Menahem Ben-Sasson, president of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and chairman of the Committee of University Heads in Israel, welcomed the plan and said it would give high school graduates a more profound education for when they begin academic studies.

He said the universities would be able to rely on the matriculation exams more than in the past as a tool for admitting students.

The universities are examining expanding the number of programs for which admission will not require the psychometric exam. Some programs already admit students on the basis of a matriculation certificate alone.

Also as part of the program, elementary schools will manage themselves and be free to determine 25 percent of their curriculum. All schools will determine 30 percent of the curriculum, in consultation with teachers and students.

Moti Milrod