Report: School Diagnostic Tests Miss Local Realities

Most of the diagnostic tests administered to kindergartners and first graders are not sensitive to Arab or immigrant students and have not been validated on a national level, the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities said in a report made public yesterday.

The report, which was recently submitted to the Education Ministry, also found some of the tests were imported from abroad without being adapted to Israeli children.

"Various organizations, both public and private, are active in these areas, and each one uses different methods that serve their particular goals," the report found. "In most cases, they make use of tools devoid of national norms, making it doubtful whether reliable and valid information can be gleaned from them."

The report examined psychological and personality tests as well as those assessing cognitive, comprehension, and motor and coordination skills, which are considered indicators of students' reading and writing abilities. It was compiled by a panel of leading academic researchers and led by Prof. Zvia Breznitz, who heads Haifa University's Center for Brain Research and Learning Disabilities.

At least 15 percent of students in Israeli schools suffer from learning disabilities and undergo diagnostic testing.

"The State of Israel lacks the tools to locate, sort, diagnose, measure and assess in a normative and appropriate manner, which would allow for a systematic and logical examination of the development of young children in most of the areas tested," the report found. "The existing education system uses many tools that are based on an unclear rationale and do not meet the standards of validity and reliability."

The report recommends that diagnostic tests be suited to minority cultures in Israel, making them more applicable to Arab, ultra-Orthodox and immigrant children.

'Not reflective of children's abilities'

The lack of acceptable norms leads psychologists and other professionals to feel as though "their reports of the test results do not reflect the children's abilities and do not provide a true picture of the difficulties and problems," according to the report.

The Education Ministry said in a statement that it had requested the report because it realized "that the educational system is lacking diagnostic and assessment tools."

"We have great interest in studying the recommendations and implementing the appropriate ones," the ministry said. It added that it has recently developed unique diagnostic tools to assess whether young children were learning Arabic and that the testing would begin in the 2008-09 school year.

A diagnostic tool to test immigrant children's grasp of Hebrew is almost ready for use, the ministry said.