Israeli Students Lagging Behind in Math, Science

25 percent of Israeli students ranked below the lowest benchmark, Israel lags between bottom third and middle of rankings.

The 2007 Trends in Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) provides many opportunities to compare the state of Israel's math and science education programs with those of other countries. It not only reveals the quality of eighth-grade education but also details standard class sizes, homework assignments and teachers' working conditions. In many cases, Israel is situated between the bottom third and the middle of the international table, which ranks 49 countries.

Taiwan placed first in mathematics, with an average score of 598 points, compared to Israel's 24th-place ranking and average score of 463 points. Closer examination of the percentage of students who performed at or above the advanced benchmark, set at 625 points, offers a clearer picture. While only 4 percent of the Israelis received the highest grades, in Taiwan 45 percent performed at or above advanced levels. On the other end of the scale, 25 percent of Israeli students ranked below the lowest benchmark, scoring less than 400 points, while only 5 percent of Taiwanese students did the same.

In the breakdown of the mathematics scores, Israeli students achieved an average score of 470 in Algebra and 436 in Geometry. In comparison, the respective scores for their Taiwanese counterparts were 617 and 592.

With regard to average class size, it turns out that Taiwanese classes are more crowded than in Israel, with an average of 35 students compared to 33 in Israel. Both nations ranked above the international average of 29 per class. The two countries are similar in terms of the number of hours devoted to mathematics each week, with 23 and 25 hours, respectively, in Israel and in Taiwan.

The subject of math homework turned up some interesting findings. In Israel, a larger percentage of students reported that teachers checked whether their assignments were completed (73 percent, compared to 66 percent in Taiwan), but Taiwanese students reported that their teachers gave them more feedback, required them to correct mistakes they made during class and use homework as a basis for classroom discussion.

Finally, teachers were asked about their working conditions: whether the school buildings were in need of extensive renovation, whether classrooms were too crowded and whether they had a private workspace. Here, too, the gaps are very much in evidence: While in Taiwan 27 percent of teachers reported that their working conditions were inadequate, 47 percent of their Israeli counterparts (well above the international average of 33 percent) answered this question in the affirmative.