Reading, Writing Skills on Decline Among Israeli Students

'From reading some of the exams you get the impression that these students wouldn’t have reached 9th grade 20 years ago.'

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Israeli high school students taking their matriculation (bagrut) exam.
Israeli high school students taking their matriculation (bagrut) exam.Credit: Alon Ron

Israeli students’ scores in matriculation exams in 2010-2014 reflect diminishing reading and writing skills, high school teachers say.

Haaretz’ examination of matriculation exam scores in those years finds that the lowest scores were achieved in literature and Hebrew expression at the basic level of two study units. Also, the scores in communities with low socioeconomic standing, especially in the periphery, were lower than those in communities at a high socioeconomic level.

Literature and Hebrew expression teachers are not surprised by the low exam scores, saying the students’ reading and writing skills are getting worse. A matriculation exams evaluator who asked to remain anonymous told Haaretz, “The strongest impression one gets from the exams is the gaps [between the high and low levels]. It’s like different stages of evolution. From reading some of the exams you get the impression that these students wouldn’t have reached 9th grade 20 years ago.”

“This is the picture of the divisions in Israeli society and between the center and the periphery,” the evaluator continued. “There’s a class with an average [test score] of 90, and then exams with inarticulate language, spelling and syntax mistakes, and you wonder if the students come from the same education system.”

A former matriculation exam evaluator said, “If education professionals and MKs could see a sample of these answers, they’d realize there’s a crisis in students’ reading comprehension. Covering up the scores perpetuates the existing situation, as does giving the exams a lenient evaluation, and nobody outside the system is aware of the students’ low writing standard Something very bad is happening, although there are some excellent students as well.”

Dr. Tali Yaniv, head of literature in the religious state education system, recently said in an interview with the education periodical Hed Hachinuch, “The status of the humanities in society pains me, that’s the direction it’s going here and in the world. There are attention problems and the students have difficulty reading long texts and analyzing them. Texts that I taught 20 years ago in 8th grade are a problem today in 12th grade.”

The exam score averages nationwide are not published and Haaretz obtained them after submitting a request with the Hazlacha NGO on the basis of the Freedom of Information Law.

Students in communities with low socioeconomic status, especially those in the periphery such as Sderot, Dimona, Ofakim and Hatzor Haglilit, got test scores below the national average in most subjects. By contrast, students in communities with a high socioeconomic status, such as Ra’anana, Hod Hasharon, Zichron Yaakov and Givat Shmuel scored marks above the national average.

The national average in literature exams was 73.7 in 2014 and in Hebrew expression 72.6, the latter figure down from the 2010 average of 74.8.

The lowest average score in Hebrew expression was about 66. In Sderot, for example, the average was 66.5, in Ofakim 66.7 and in Dimona 66.9. The highest average was in 80.2 in Zichron Yaakov, 80.1 in Givat Shmuel, 78.7 in Hod Hasharon and 78.4 in Ganei Tikva.

In literature, students scored the highest average marks in Ra’anana (79.3), Zichron Yaakov (78.7), Hod Hasharon (78.3) and Shafir (78.1). The lowest scores were in Daliat al-Carmel (62.1), Ma’alot-Tarshiha (62.3), Sderot (65.8) and Ofakim (67.3).

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