Students in Religious Schools Fare Poorly on Judaism Test

Fifth-graders in state-religious schools scored an average of just 70 on a nationwide exam intended to test their knowledge of Judaism, compared to 76 the previous year. The fourth-graders, who were tested on the Book of Exodus, fared even worse, with an average grade of 56 out of 100 points. The exams were administered last year, and the results were recently made public by the Ministry of Education.

According to a source in the ministry's state-religious schools division, the results "seem to point to a problem in the teaching of the Bible in the religious schools. We must check the reason for the pupils' failure."

The tests for the state-religious programs are held once a year by the administration for religious study, in collaboration with the National Authority for Measurement and Evaluation in Education. Last school year 6,500 fourth graders and 7,000 fifth graders from throughout the country were tested.

The exam on Exodus is intended to evaluate the students' abilities of the pupils to navigate within the text and to understand both the text itself and certain commentaries by Rashi, the 11th-century Biblical commentator.

The exam for fifth graders is more comprehensive and is intended to evaluate the students' knowledge of important concepts and issues in both the Oral and Written Law.

The average scores for the test for fourth graders remained unchanged at 56 from the previous year. In reading comprehension the average grade was 59, while in interpretations the average score was 50.

Another part of the exam, which was evaluated separately, required the pupils to complete five Bible verses orally. The average grade for this was 59.

One notable finding in the test scores was a 20-point gap between the results of students from higher socioeconomic backgrounds and their disadvantaged peers, in favor of the former.

The exam for fifth-graders contained five sections with questions on Judaism, most of which were multiple-choice.

In an exam administered to ninth-graders in both state-religious and "regular" state schools and which includes sections on Zionism, democracy and Judaism, students from state-religious schools scores significantly higher on Judaism than their peers in nonreligious schools. Last year's the average grade in that subject was 80 for the former and 64 for the latter. In the other two subjects there was no significant difference in the scores.