Israel Won't Use Economic Factors to Assess Special Education Eligibility 'In the Short Term'

'In the long term' Education Ministry to implement controversial reform that assesses eligibility for special education by economic considerations and strict quotas

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Special-needs children at a school in Modi’in, Israel, August 8, 2019.
Special-needs children at a school in Modi’in, Israel, August 8, 2019. Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Shira Kadari-Ovadia
Shira Kadari-Ovadia

The Education Ministry has instructed the committees that evaluate children with disabilities to use professional considerations only in their assessments “in the short term,” disregarding economic factors.

In the long term, the ministry said in a letter sent Tuesday to the Israel Psychological Association and the directors of educational-psychological services in the ministry, it will continue to implement a reform that has faced criticism from professionals in the field and from parents of children with disabilities.

Critics of the reform claim that it ties the hands of the members of the panels that determine children’s eligibility for special education services. Some critics say the reform forces professionals to apply inflexible criteria that are not clear to the parents, and that the composition of the committees favors the position of the Education Ministry.

The ministry said it planned to conduct “dialogue and learning of understandings and suggestions” over the course of the summer in order to implement the reform.

The letter followed claims that for a number of months the Education Ministry has been guided by economic considerations and by strict quotas rather than professional considerations in determining eligibility.

The ministry’s reform program went into effect in the summer of 2019. A major component of the program is for the assessment committees to be headed by a representative from the ministry, rather than the local government. But after many cases in which the remaining committee members approved higher levels of support and eligibility, state education inspectors from the regular education system began attending these meetings, guaranteeing the position of the ministry a majority when voting on the ability levels of the children.

Last month Haaretz’s Hebrew edition published testimonies from educators and committee members that described growing pressure not to exceed a quota when approving students for special education, in light of the greater expense involved. The restrictions reduced the aid given to children with disabilities, from kindergarten to 12th grade.

The committee chairwoman explicitly said there were quotas. That was “a pity, because the district directors will cut the budget in the end,” said one member of an assessment committee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

“The committee is a rigged game,” said a teacher at a special-education kindergarten. She said that many children who clearly need special education services are judged ineligible as a result of the methods used by the Education Ministry. “These are children who will pay a price in regular classrooms, they’ll disappear into them,” said the teacher, who asked not to be identified.

In a written response, the Education Ministry said the eligibility and assessment committees are professional and businesslike. “In cases where we received information about glitches in the conduct of the committees in certain places, we decided to revisit the directives with all of the relevant professionals including the committee chairs. We shall send a reminder about the protocols.”

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