Achievement gap between Jewish, Arab students narrows, study reveals

Acheivment gap narrows, however international comparisons give continued cause for concern for Israel

Pupils at Tiferet Chaya School for Girls in Elad (photo credit: Courtesy)
Pupils at Tiferet Chaya School for Girls in Elad
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Educational achievement gaps between Jewish and Arab students have narrowed in recent years, although significant gaps still persist, according to a study published on Monday.
The review by the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel found that gaps between the sectors narrowed in nearly all levels of school education, especially within similar socioeconomic groupings. International comparisons, however, give continued cause for concern as Israel still ranks low in overall student achievement and high in achievement gaps.
Between 2008 and 2017, student scores in standardized 5th grade Meitzav assessments increased by approximately 13% in mathematics and about 8% in English. Within the Arab education system, performances improved by 22% and 13%, respectively, indicating a narrowing of achievement gaps between Arab schools and Hebrew-language ones.
Despite improved performances, large achievement gaps were identified according to the socioeconomic status of schools, both between and within sectors. The overall score of low socioeconomic index schools increased 12% from 466 in 2008 to 522 in 2017, but still trailed behind high socioeconomic index education, which increased 4.3% to 554 in 2017 from a score of 531 in 2008.
Within socioeconomic groupings, however, gaps between sectors in 5th grade tests narrowed, especially in English assessments. In 2017, overall scores in Arab education were higher than those in Hebrew-language education at every socioeconomic level.
“There are considerable gaps between Jewish and Arab student achievement and between students from high and low socioeconomic groups, both at the national and international levels,” said Taub Center researcher Nachum Blass, who authored the study. “At the same time, there are also notable improvements in the level of achievement and in the narrowing of these gaps.”
Scores recorded in 8th grade Meitzav assessments during the same period portrayed a similar picture for primary school pupils. Achievement gaps between sectors narrowed in all subjects, but remained large. The average score in Arab education increased by 110 points, while Hebrew-language education rose 79 points. The narrowing of gaps was particularly notable in the sciences, while being more moderate in English and mathematics.
The rising trend within Arab-Israeli society to join medical and engineering professions, Blass showed, has increased motivation among students to invest more in related subjects.
Here too, gaps between the sectors are narrowing, especially when examining data according to identical socioeconomic backgrounds. Gaps in mathematics between Arab-Israeli and Jewish students in the low socioeconomic grouping narrowed to just 1 point by 2017 from 19 points in 2008. Among students from high socioeconomic groups, the gap narrowed to 9 points from 16 points. In the sciences, data shows that Arab-Israelis outperformed students in Hebrew-language education at all socioeconomic levels.
Qualification rates in high school bagrut (matriculation) examinations – considered the key to socioeconomic mobility and often perceived as the central criteria of education success – increased substantially between 1990 and 2015, according to the study.
When considering students with bagrut scores enabling admission to higher education alone, results show that achievement gaps grew between Jewish students from different socioeconomic groupings. Conversely, achievement gaps did not change or even narrowed among Israeli-Arab students from different economic backgrounds.
“The persistence of gaps, and the lack of improvement in student achievement and narrowing of gaps, demand that the education system and those at its top take immediate action, especially following the disappointing results of the PISA exams,” said Blass.
Results of the international 2018 PISA exams were published by the OECD in December, showing that Israeli students are underperforming in reading, mathematics and science compared to the average developed-world country, and that gaps between the strongest and weakest students are the greatest among all states. These findings, Blass said, are not surprising considering Israel’s GDP, per student expenditure, class size and poverty rate among students.
The scores attained by Hebrew-speaking students in the PISA exams (506) exceeded the OECD average (487), but the achievements of Arab speakers were far behind (362) and have declined by nearly 40 points since 2006. This is another surprising finding, Blass noted, given the improvements in Arab student achievements in domestic assessments.
“There is a rising need to examine the gap between the improvement in student achievements seen in national exams in Israel and the relatively low results relative to the OECD – and to understand why improvements in Israeli students test scores have come to a halt,” said Taub Center president Prof. Avi Weiss. “The notable improvement in Arab-Israeli scores is blessed, but we need to continue to work to narrow gaps between the sectors.”