J'lem Court orders teachers to permit PISA test

The Jerusalem Labor Court issued an order Thursday evening prohibiting the Association of Secondary School Teachers from striking or otherwise interfering with the administration of the PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) test. The test is scheduled to be administered in some 160 schools over two to three weeks beginning on Sunday. The court issued the order in response to a petition submitted earlier Thursday by the Education Ministry and the Center for Local Government. The association told the court the issue was a financial one and part of the labor dispute the union declared with the ministry last December. The teachers have said their preparations for the test required changes in the school curriculum and the addition of teaching hours. The secondary schools, they noted, have already suffered a cut of 107,000 weekly hours. An additional 18,000 hour cut approved by the outgoing government is slated to result in the dismissal of between 600 and 1,000 teachers by May 31. The union's legal advisers, Carmit Levy Zamir and Dror Gal, said in a brief submitted to the court, "It is inconceivable that teachers who may be dismissed at the end of this school year will facilitate the administration of tests that are not part of the school curriculum and for which they are not paid, while their work hours have been cut." Prof. Yaakov Katz, chairman of the Pedagogic Secretariat at the Education Ministry, told The Jerusalem Post that the PISA test required no special preparation and that testing for literacy and numeracy skills was already part of the curriculum. Prior to Thursday's appeal, the teachers had announced that if the tests were administered as planned, they would either refuse to distribute them, send students home or go on strike. Sample groups of 15-year-olds from several countries have been taking the PISA tests, developed by the OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development), every three years since 2000. The test is designed to assess students' level of knowledge and skills essential for full participation in contemporary society. This year, the focus of the test - which will be conducted in 58 countries - is scientific literacy. Israeli students first participated in the test in 2003. They scored in the bottom 25 percent among the 40 participating countries in all categories - including reading, math and science skills. The results showed that a third of Israeli junior high students lacked based reading skills. In general, the only countries whose students scored lower than Israel's were from the third world. The poor results three years ago were one of the main catalysts for the creation of the Dovrat Commission on education reform.