40% of Students Haven't Done Homework? Teacher Gets an A

What are the Education Ministry's real expectations regarding homework assignments turned in by Israel's students? According to an official ministry memorandum, getting just 60 percent of third-grade students to complete their homework assignments should be considered a success.

The memo, entitled "Goals of Lingual Education," was released recently by the ministry.

"We did not want to set unrealistic goals," said Mazal Shaniak, the Education Ministry's top official in charge of lingual instruction.

Others warn against the danger of setting an objective that could become an end in itself.

"There is a danger in that establishing a desired rate of success will itself become the goal, and that would affect the way students who do not meet the threshold are dealt with," said Hebrew University professor Ilit Olstein, an expert on language acquisition.

The Education Ministry has significantly increased the number of instruction hours for first-language studies - Hebrew and Arabic, depending on the school - in third grade for this school year, particularly in light of the low test scores on internationally administered exams. This is the first time the Education Ministry has established clear criteria for success in the third-grade literacy curriculum.

Israeli students ranked 31st in the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, an exam taken by students in 45 countries.

As of this school year, 95 percent of third-grade students are expected to be able to read fluently and "write texts in various lengths with proper grammar and legible handwriting."

However, the standards in other areas of study are lower.

The ministry expects 90 percent of students to demonstrate reasonable proficiency in oral expression and 80 percent to be well-versed in a 300-word vocabulary that will be taught throughout the year. Seventy percent are expected to know correct word conjugations and to read 15 books independently, and just 60 percent are expected to hand in homework.

The students' rate of success will be measured by three exams to be taken during the course of the academic year.

A Hebrew teacher at a Tel Aviv elementary school said she was concerned about all her students, not just a certain percentage.

"We were surprised to see the success indices established by the Education Ministry," the teacher said. "I always thought the teachers are supposed to concern themselves with improving all their students and not make do with just some of them who know their vocabulary or read books for pleasure."

"We have a responsibility toward all our students, and establishing these thresholds is liable to be interpreted as legitimizing [teachers' failure] to exert too much effort," the teacher said.