Education Gap Widens in Israel, Despite Overall Improvement in Test Scores

Among middle-class students, Arabs outscore Jews; Education Ministry working on new formula to distinguish between strong and weak schools.

Yarden Skop
Yarden Skop
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Yarden Skop
Yarden Skop

The results of the 2012-13 national standardized student assessment tests, known as the Meitzav exams, show overall improvement in pupil achievement over the previous year, but the gaps in achievement between wealthy students and those from poor families is widening, according to figures released on Sunday by the Education Ministry.

Since 2006-7, there have been cumulative improvements in all the subjects tested, for all ages. However, in 2012-13 there was a seven-point drop in the scores for mother-tongue Hebrew among fifth graders compared to the previous year, while in eighth grade the Hebrew scores remained about the same.

The results are the last for the Meitzav tests in this format, after Education Minister Shay Piron decided to suspend the tests this year to formulate a new model for measuring achievement.

Unlike past years, the Education Ministry did not hold a press conference to announce the results, even though they ostensibly indicate an improvement. Instead, in its announcement, it chose to stress that which in the past it had tried to hide – the large and growing gaps between the achievement of children from prosperous backgrounds and those from economically struggling families. In fact, the improved scores – in all subjects and for all ages – were mostly achieved by middle- and upper-class children, and this was true for both Hebrew-speaking and Arabic-speaking children.

In the Hebrew speaking, government supervised schools, the gaps in scores in the fifth grade between wealthier and poorer children were quite wide – a difference of 51 points in math, 46 points in Hebrew, 42 points in English and 41 points in science and technology. Among eighth graders, however, the gaps between wealthy and poor were even wider – 109 points in math, 92 in science and technology, 82 in English and 81 in Hebrew. The differences in scores between the wealthy and poor in math, science and technology, English and Hebrew, had all increased over the previous year.

There are, and have always been, gaps in achievement between Jewish and Arab pupils, and over the years there has been no clear trend of reducing them. However, the figures show that a child’s economic background has more influence on his achievement then his ethnic background. When comparing Arab and Jewish pupils of similar economic backgrounds, the differences in scores narrow considerably. Among middle-class children, in fact, the scores of Arabic-speaking children were slightly higher in some subjects than those of Hebrew-speaking children.

The Education Ministry said on Sunday that it is working on a new funding formula that will fundamentally distinguish between strong and weak schools, so that the weaker schools will get more. If today every school gets the same basic hours funded, the new allocation method is expected to budget additional hours for core courses in weaker schools. Similarly, while the current “distress index” is used to evaluate only elementary schools with large disadvantaged populations for the purpose of providing additional funding, this differential model will be expanded to secondary schools as well.

Students taking an exam.Credit: Moti Milrod

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