Coronavirus Interrupted the School Year, and Many Israeli Teachers Expect Students to Fail

A first-of-its-kind Education Ministry survey, spurred by the pandemic, found that high school math, English and language teachers have yet to cover material for next month’s matriculation exams

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High school students prepare for their summer matriculation exams in math, in Jerusalem, June 29, 2020.
High school students prepare for their summer matriculation exams in math, in Jerusalem, June 29, 2020.Credit: Emil Salman
Or Kashti

Half of high school teachers in math, English and language skills estimate that their pupils will not manage to pass their matriculation exams, expected to take place in three weeks, according to an extensive survey conducted by the Education Ministry.

The survey of high school teachers also found that in none of the compulsory subjects did teachers manage to finish all the material required for passing these exams, even after the scope of these exams was reduced earlier this year. Sources at the ministry believe that these figures will lead to additional adaptations, such as a further reduction in the material to be covered in the exams, or giving a wider choice in answering questions.

In an attempt to assess the preparedness of pupils ahead of these exams, the ministry distributed questionnaires to teachers in seven subjects: math, English, primary language (Hebrew or Arabic), history, civics, literature and Bible studies. Some 2,700 teachers from across the country took part in the survey, most of them math and English teachers.

The survey, the first of its kind, and the internal discussions that followed, are a direct result of studying under the restrictions of the coronavirus pandemic. According to a source at the ministry, matriculation tests this year are expected to broaden the already wide gaps between pupils who can compensate for difficulties associated with remote learning and those who find it hard to do so.

In the survey, teachers were asked to assess the anticipated success of their pupils in the upcoming matriculation exams, with a grade of 70 defined as “a reasonable achievement.” According to figures obtained by Haaretz, only half of the math, English and first-language teachers estimated that their students would attain this grade.

In four other compulsory subjects – history, Bible, literature and civics – 60-66 percent of the teachers in each of these subjects estimated that their pupils would achieve this grade. Another worrisome finding was that teachers believe that two thirds of their pupils feel that they have “low capabilities” in math and in their first language. In other words, they don’t believe they’ll succeed in the exam. In other subjects, teachers estimate that 40 to 50 percent of their pupils feel this way.

An analysis of the data suggests that teachers did not manage to teach all the required material in any of the seven subjects. This is particularly grave when it comes to math. Half of the teachers say that they covered only 60 percent of the material. In other subjects, the gaps are smaller, but still substantial. “Undoubtedly, the most difficult problem is the amount of material covered” said a source familiar with the issue.

“One can understand the pressure pupils are under with the upcoming exams. In addition to changes already announced, the teachers’ reports strengthen the need to adapt the exams to the current situation," the source said. "These adaptations can include, among other things, allowing for more time, a further reduction in the material covered in exams, or an increase in available choices when answering questions.”

Several superintendents in these subjects have already announced some changes. For example, the upcoming history exam will not include an analysis of an original source. Representatives of colleges and universities, who are responsible for admission policies in their institutions, have also been participating in discussions about possible changes in exam material.

The internal ministry survey confirmed the concerns of teachers, as published this week in Haaretz, regarding the low level of preparedness of their pupils for their matriculation exams. One Bible teacher from the north says that their school decided to forgo the winter exam and have their pupils take it in the summer. This will increase the load on the system in the summer months.

An English teacher from Ramle said that weaker classes would not take the exam now, even though their school always participates in both winter and summer exams. He said that the stronger classes suffer less with remote learning, but the lower levels have difficulties with studying and practicing their English through Zoom.

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