While student scores on matriculation exams have improved, there is no evidence that a decline in the difficulty of the exams is the cause, according to a study released by the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel on Sunday.
The policy paper, “Bagrut Exams: Issues and Recommendations for Reform,” was conducted by Nachum Blass, a senior education researcher at the center.
The study was administered due to criticism against the matriculation exams, including claims that they “make the educational process superficial, are not representative of the fields of study and the necessary skills required for graduates in their future lives, are expensive to administer and result in a great waste of school days.”
According to the study, the percentage of students who received a matriculation certificate increased from 46 percent in 2006 to 50% in 2012.
Among non-Orthodox Jews the rate increased from 57% in 2006 to 67% in 2012, among Arab Israelis (excluding East Jerusalem) the rate increased from 35% to 42%, and among Druse students the rate increased from 44% to 55%.
In contrast, among ultra-Orthodox and Beduin students there was little or no change between 2006 and 2012. The percentage of ultra-Orthodox students who received a matriculation certificate remained 8%, while the rate went up from 28% to 29% among Beduin pupils.
“Although there have been changes in the past to the exams, and among them a reduction in the amount of material required, as well as the addition of both second and third testing opportunities for students to improve their scores, these changes are not indicative of a change in the quality of the tests themselves,” wrote Blass.
On the contrary, the findings indicated that pupils are devoting more time to their studies. Between the years 1995 and 2010, the percentage of pupils studying the minimum number of 21 units required for a matriculation certificate declined from 38% to 29%, while the percentage of pupils who studied for an extended matriculation exam of 31 units or more increased from 17% to 29% .
The study showed that the average psychometric test score increased by 15 points between 2002 and 2012, from 603 to 618 out of 800, indicating an increase in the quality of students accepted to academic institutions, with the exception of academic colleges without governmental funding, whose test scores declined.
In addition, Blass compared the number of hours of science and technology study in middle school among pupils aged 12 to 14 with the averages of Western countries, and found that Israel ranked among the highest, in line with countries such as France, Germany, Japan and Korea.
Furthermore, the report noted that between 1995 and 2010, the amount of students taking matriculation exams in mathematics, physics and biology increased.
In his study, Blass recommended a wide-ranging reform in the matriculation exams to include three key elements: tools, knowledge, and values.
He called for the inclusion of subjects that are considered “essential tools for integration into society,” such as studying one’s mother tongue, a foreign language, civics, computer skills and mathematics. He also called for the matriculation certificate to reflect the pupils’ school grades throughout high school, as well as an evaluation by educational staff on non-academic issues, such as behavior and volunteering.