PISA tests: Israeli students consistently behind developed world

The PISA examinations showed Israeli students underperforming in reading, mathematics and science. They also reveal a growing gap between Hebrew-speaking and Arabic-speaking pupils.

Students from middle schools in Nazareth and Nof Hagalil study together and create joint projects (photo credit: Courtesy)
Students from middle schools in Nazareth and Nof Hagalil study together and create joint projects
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Israeli school pupils are consistently performing below the developed world average in core subjects, according to the results of the international 2018 PISA examinations.
Published by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) on Tuesday, the results show Israeli students underperforming in reading, mathematics and science compared to the OECD average.
They also reveal a growing gap in scholastic performance between Hebrew-speaking and Arabic-speaking pupils in Israel.
The PISA examinations, carried out every three years, evaluate education systems worldwide by measuring basic skills and knowledge of 15-year-old pupils, and their readiness for the challenges of adult life.
Approximately 600,000 pupils from 79 countries – including 37 OECD nations – completed the latest test, which focused primarily on their reading ability.
Israeli pupils recorded a mean score of 470 points in reading examinations, below the OECD average of 487 points. While Hebrew-speakers maintained their previous score of 506 points in the latest examinations, the performance of Arabic-speaking pupils slipped by 29 points to 362.
In mathematics, the Israeli average stood at 463 points, below the OECD average of 489. Hebrew-speakers scored 490 points, while Arabic-speakers recorded a total of just 379 points, a decrease of 12 points since the 2015 tests.
The final area of examination was in sciences, where Israeli pupils averaged 462 points, behind the OECD average of 489. Here too, Hebrew-speakers scored 491 points, slightly surpassing the developed world average, while results of Arabic-speakers decreased by 26 points to 375.
Responding to the disappointing results, Education Minister Rafi Peretz vowed to establish a team to examine the sharp decline in student achievement within the Arab-Israeli sector.
The team will be tasked with evaluating the Arabic-language curriculum and current teaching materials and methods, focusing on the Bedouin population in the South.
“When I took office, I declared that narrowing gaps is the key challenge today in the State of Israel,” said Peretz, who has been at the helm of the Education Ministry since June. “The reality that gaps have widened between students from high and low socioeconomic backgrounds is unacceptable... A democratic and vibrant society must grant equal opportunity to every boy and girl, and enable them to reach the forefront of sciences, academia and technology. This is our mission.”
Education Ministry director-general Shmuel Abuav will be tasked with forming a working group, Peretz said, to develop a comprehensive program to strengthen the education system in Arab society.
According to the OECD’s findings, Israel is among one of 12 countries where “a typical disadvantaged student has less than a one-in-eight chance of attending the same school” as a high-performing student who scored in the top quarter of reading performance in PISA.
“An analysis of PISA’s findings indicates consistent disparities between Hebrew and Arabic speakers – a statistic that requires us to change direction,” said Abuav. “The working group will leave no stone unturned, examine the curriculum and efficiency of resource allocation, and the way that thousands of hours of [teaching time] are spent.”
Commenting on the PISA results, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz said he had defined education as the “most pressing issue” to address in Israel.
“As prime minister, I intend to meet with the education minister and the director-general of Israel’s Education Ministry as frequently as with the defense minister and the director-general of the Defense Ministry,” said Gantz. “The PISA survey results, which point to decline on most indexes – and worse, to widening achievement gaps – demand all of us to pause, change course, and define a nationwide program to ensure equal educational opportunity for all.”