Israel’s Poorest Pupils Lag Behind Richest by Four Years, Study Finds

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File photo: High school students attending during class, in the southern Israeli city of Ashdod.
File photo: High school students attending during class, in the southern Israeli city of Ashdod. Credit: Ilan Assayag

Israel’s poorest pupils are four years behind their stronger counterparts, according to an analysis of the PISA international test results, which were released last month.

This analysis is another indication that the Education Ministry has failed in its goal to advance the country’s weakest pupils, who hail from the country’s poorer, outlying areas.

The PISA test results publicized last month indicated that the grades of the poorest students dropped significantly in each of the three subjects tested – language, math and science – relative to their grades in 2015. In contrast, the grades of the wealthiest students increased slightly from three years earlier, while the grades of those in the middle declined only slightly.

The PISA test is conducted by the OECD among 15- to 16-year-olds every three years. Participants come from OECD nations, as well as other countries.

The gap in reading skills is particularly worrisome. In 2018 there was a significant gap – 114 points – in favor of the wealthiest students, up from an 89-point gap in 2015. The gap grew because the poorer students did worse, not because the wealthier students did much better.

According to the Education Ministry, 30 points represents an entire year’s worth of education, which would indicate a four-year gap in the skills of the poorest students versus the wealthiest, compared to a three-year gap as of 2015.

In math, the gap was 99 points, a 12-point increase from 2015. In science, the gap was 103 points, a 23-point increase since 2015.

The poorest students had an average grade in reading that was 29 points lower in 2018 than it was in 2015, and 19 points lower than the average grade in 2012. In math, their scores declined 10 points since 2015, and 2 points since 2012; in science their score declined by an average of 17 points since 2015.

Israel’s wealthiest students saw their grades increase slightly between 2015 and 2018. Their reading score increased by 6 points, their math score increased 2 points, and their science score increased 6 points as well.

Students in the middle class, who account for the bulk of the country’s students, saw their scores decline by 4-6 points in all three subjects.

In Israel, some 6,623 high school pupils participated in the PISA exam in 2018.

The publication of the test results in December drew considerable embarrassment in Israel, after it emerged that the country’s test scores were significantly worse in 2018 than in 2015, and the percentage of students failing hit a 10-year high.

The gaps between Jewish and Arab students were particularly glaring, with the Arab failure rate more than twice that found among Jewish students.

Ultra-Orthodox boys did not participate in the PISA exam at all.

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