1 in 3 Jewish Students Gets Special Dispensation on Bagrut

The number of students entitled to accommodations on matriculation exams (Bagrut) exceeds 25 percent for the first time. These accommodations are usually given to students with various learning disabilities.

In the matriculation exams held during the summer of 2008, 67,000 students (or 26.1 percent of those tested) received accommodations - such as being allowed 35 percent more time, having questions read out loud to them, being allowed to answer orally instead of in writing, not having points taken off for incorrect spelling, shortened tests and more.

Figures from the Education Ministry show that these numbers were up from 23.1 percent in 2007. In comparison, in 1998 only 8.2 percent of students were granted such accommodations.

The accommodations granted today are based on tests that are "invalid and unreliable, since they are not based on national norms. To give accommodations [in such a fashion] is almost criminal," said Dr. Michal Shany of the Haifa University's Department of Learning Disabilities in the faculty of education.

The ministry prepared further data for Haaretz, which reveal large gaps in the percentages of pupils who received accommodations on matriculation examinations between various towns with different socio-economic levels. This is the first time the ministry has released such information on individual towns.

For example, in Kochav Ya'ir, the town with the highest eligibility rate for matriculation certificates, the percentage of students granted accommodations reached 39 percent; in Shoham, the second-ranked town in matriculation certificate eligibility, the accommodation rate was 34 percent. Other well-off towns such as Modi'in, Ra'anana and Givatayim were also at the top of the accommodation tables, in the 33-36 percent range.

At the other end of the spectrum, towns such as Be'er Sheva, Kiryat Malakhi and Ashdod had numbers in the 20 percent range.

Southern development towns such as Ofakim and Netivot had accommodation rates of about 25 percent, while in Sderot the numbers reached 35 percent - a figure explained by the drawn-out period during which the city has been under threat of rocket attacks.

Of the three largest cities in Israel, Tel Aviv had the highest level of such accommodations for learning disabilities - 34 percent; Haifa and Jerusalem had 25 percent and 23 percent respectively.

"We have reached an insane situation, where about half the pupils in every grade level receive accommodations for matriculation exams, based on claims that they have learning disabilities," said the principal of a large school in the center of the country.

"There are many students and parents who relate to these accommodations as a 'wonder drug.' If the child has a few difficulties, they run straight to have an evaluation. All they have to do is find the appropriate examiner. It's a very easy solution. It is not logical that so many students really have learning disabilities," the principal said.

Other large gaps exist between Jewish and Arab students: 31 percent and nine percent respectively. Some seven percent of Druze students and only three percent of Beduin pupils are entitled to such accommodations. Also, the gap between religious and non-religious schools among the Jewish population no longer exists in these accommodations.

At the college level, only 10 percent of students are diagnosed with learning disabilities, similar to figures found in most Western countries.

The Education Ministry said the figures relate not only to accommodations provided to students with learning disabilities in regular programs, but also to those in special education or with chronic illnesses, and who therefore miss a lot of material. Also, during periods when students in the south suffered from Qassam rocket fire and schools were forced to change their routine, it was decided to grant them various accommodations, including extra time, said the ministry.

The ministry also said that test accommodations such as oral exams or shorter tests are given under strict supervision. "The level of such accommodations in Israel reaches eight percent, a figure close to that in Europe, where the level is five percent." As to the gaps between different groups with in the population, the ministry said: "This gap reflects the existing social gaps."