Matriculation Gap Widens Between Affluent, Poor Towns

Kochav Ya'ir has the highest proportion of students who pass the high school completion exam in Israel with an 82.3-percent eligibility rate among 12th graders who take the final exam, according to data released yesterday by the Ministry of Education.

On the other end of the matriculation eligibility chart in Israel's Jewish population is Bnei Brak with only 15 percent in the 2008 school year.

Fureidis, an Israeli Arab town in the Haifa District, emerged as the big surprise of the matriculation (bagrut) census, with a 75.85 eligibility rate, greatly exceeding the accomplishments of most Jewish towns. The national eligibility rate in 2008-2009 was 44.4 percent of all 17-year-olds compared to nearly 50 percent five years ago.

Except for Fureidis, town eligibility rates corresponded with their positioning on the socioeconomic spectrum, with affluent local authorities occupying the leading slots of 80 percent and above. Arab and Haredi towns, where many students skip the matriculation exam, constitute the bottom rung.

Kochav Ya'ir - which actually dropped by three percent compared to last year - topped the chart two years ago as well, while Jewish Bnei Brak and Beitar Ilit, and Arab Jisser a-Zarka and Arara came in last. The gap between leading towns and those with lower eligibility rates has widened over the past couple of years.

Between 2001 and 2008, matriculation eligibility in leading towns remained at around 64 percent, while trailing municipalities dropped from about 55 percent to 49 percent.

The data were compiled by calculating the number of matriculants in local authorities with more than 10,000 residents. This calculation does not factor in the number of students who dropped out of 12th grade before taking the exam.

Shoham came in second with 77.94 percent, the lowest point it has reached in a slump that has gone on for a number of years. Fureidis, by contrast, completed a 40 percent leap in two years, placing it in third place.

Hossni Abu Dahash, the town's high school principal for the past 19 years, said the school started a marathon study program for matriculants in order to prepare them for the tests. The programs, he added, focused mainly on students with less chances of making it. The school, which has more than 1,400 students, 160 out of whom are 12th graders, managed to send all of its graduates to take the test.

Next on the list are the Southern Sharon Local Council with 75.72 percent, and Ramat Hasharon with 75.63. Jerusalem scored lowest among the big cities with 50.8 percent - more than 18 percentage points lower than Tel Aviv, which garnered 68.55. Haifa came in right behind with 63.44 percent.

Even Yehuda and Megiddo Regional Council saw a nine to 10 percent drop in matriculation eligibility this year, along with Sderot's 7 percent drop - possibly because of the prolonged Qassam rocket attack that the city has had to withstand.

Dimona, Kiryat Shmona and Kiryat Motzkin all boasted roughly 10-percent hikes in eligibility.

Next month the Education Ministry will publish matriculation grades in each school for the first time - a move which the ministry had traditionally opposed. The publication policy will begin in Haifa and Petah Tikva as a pilot program.

The opposition to publishing the matriculation grades of each school was opposed on the grounds that it might spark a popularity contest between schools and will further stress the importance of getting good grades at the expense of other, less measurable values.

However, the publication of grades is favored by Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar as well as by his director-general, Shimshon Shoshani. Court rulings from past years that required the ministry to release such figures also helped steer decision-makers in the direction of permitting the publication of grades.

"We aim to reach full transparency regarding each school," Shoshani said. "The experiment does not aim to increase competition between schools and there are many pedagogical concerns about this process, but we wish to try to give an accurate picture of each institution."

Chairman of the local education departments union, Avi Kaminski, said that releasing the data was "the right move as far as the municipalities are concerned" and that the local authorities were "committed to full transparency along with dealing with dropout levels."

Jack Khoury contributed to this article.