The Dyslexic Student Got the Ministry's Message: Tough Luck, Kid

Education Ministry changed its policy a few months ago and limited accommodations for students with learning disabilities.

For 10th grader Tomer Moritz, it's crystal-clear: If his learning difficulties are not taken into account, he is not going to pass the matriculation exam in Hebrew grammar and then not get a matriculation certificate and so there's little chance of higher education. He wrote Education Minister Gideo Sa'ar this week, after learning that Sa'ar's ministry has toughened its stance on tailoring exams to meet students' difficulties.

Moritz, who studies at Herzog high school in Holon, was diagnosed with dyslexia and dysgraphia in third grade. "I read very slowly and have great difficulty writing. Despite all my efforts, I am unable to pass exams without having the questions read to me and being allowed to answer verbally," he said. He takes the Hebrew grammar exam next year; it is a requirement for a matriculation certificate.

In addition, Moritz wrote: "In order to clarify my difficult situation, imagine that a child in a wheelchair is tested by being asked to run 200 meters."

The Education Ministry changed its policy a few months ago and limited accommodations made in this particular subject for students with learning disabilities, which are classified at three levels of difficulty.

Mazal Sheniak, the ministry's Hebrew grammar inspector, published a notice saying a decision had been twice debated and changes were made made in adapting the subject's level 2 exam in grammar and expression, including obtaining special permission from her office to have them "written down [for students with disabilities] by a neutral examiner."

In the past, Moritz received two such accommodations: the questions were read to him, and they were written down for him.

In his letter to Saar, Moritz wrote: "When I approached a school counselor and the Hebrew language coordinator, I was told that nothing could be done. Since this subject is required for a matriculation certificate, there is a serious concern that if I do not receive my rights, I'll have trouble passing the exam. I am turning to you with a request to take steps to change these new instructions."

No more consideration

Moritz said that "we're not talking only about my individual problem, but that of a large number of dyslexics in the country."

The ministry could not say how many students receive special consideration - or what kind - in the Hebrew grammar exam, but sources who work in the learning disability field estimate the situation affects 5,000 to 10,000 students. Maly Danino, executive director of the advocacy organization Nitzan, says complaints are coming in about this matter.

Moritz told Haaretz this week: "I didn't pay attention when the school told me there was nothing to be done. I decided to fight. There are 12 pages of reading on the Hebrew exam. I would need a ton of hours to do that, and there's no chance by answers would be accurate. The new instructions are unfair because they do not examine what I really know."

Avital Shomron, a teacher at Herzog who works with Mortiz, said: "The Education Ministry's policy is unclear, but the message, as the school understands it, is that the students will no longer have the option to be examined verbally."

Shomron said that "in the past few years there has been a problem of inflation in the number of diagnoses and accommodations, and apparently the policy change is an attempt to deal with the phenomenon. But this way children who genuinely suffer from learning disabilities are paying the price."

The Education Ministry responded: "It has always been the case that accommodations such as reading [exams] to these students are not allowed except in exceptional cases, when authorized by the regional committee; the schools do not have the authority to grant them."

(It may be noted that this statement is contradicted by Mazal Sheniak's Education Ministry notice.)

"Nonetheless," the ministry response continued, "permission has been granted by schools many times, out of ignorance of the regulations or by ignoring them. And so it was decided that a student diagnosed with a learning disability would receive permission for accommodations with regard to the Hebrew exam, in consideration of his difficulties. Only in highly exceptional cases does the regional committee authorize reading or writing of exams [by a third party]."