Israeli students’ high scores on tests questioned

Following reveal of scores on int'l standardized tests, reassessment of data puts question mark on credibility of results.

Chart 370 (photo credit: Education Ministry)
Chart 370
(photo credit: Education Ministry)
After last week’s release of Israeli pupils’ high scores on international standardized tests, a reassessment of the data shows some problems remain with the results.
According to the 2011 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) tests, Israeli pupils were above average in all categories.
The most outstanding improvement was recorded in the mathematics section where Israeli students ranked 7th out of 42 participating countries, whereas during the previous tests in 2007, they only placed 24th.
The results also showed progress in the other two subjects tested: Israel was the 13thranked country in science, compared to 25th last time, and went from 31st to 18th in reading.
While presenting the results, Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar said they illustrate a “revolution” in the education system.
“In these tests, Israeli students achieved the highestever results since they first began participating in them in the late 1990s across every socioeconomic level and were above the average in every ranking,” he said.
Sa’ar also said the poor results of the previous tests were in part due to the country’s longest-ever teachers’ strike.
When taking a close look at the data, however, one notices some significant elements that could put a question mark on the credibility of the results.
The participation figures published by the International Study Center of the School of Education at Boston College, which administers the exams, showed that almost a quarter of the Israeli students who were eligible to take the tests didn’t do so.
During an Education Ministry press conference last Tuesday in which the results were announced, it was also explained that the haredi school system, which represents one of the country’s weakest, was not included in the testing.
Education professionals who did not wish to be named said that they believe the data call into question the credibility of the exams.
The Education Ministry responded to the claims, saying they constituted “a purposeful effort to minimize the tremendous achievements of Israeli students” and continued in an official statement, “The ministry is very proud of the achievements of the education staff and the pupils of Israel.”
The Jewish Funders Network’s STEM education conference in New York two weeks ago, which focused on scientific education in Israel, showed that the country still faces problems in that domain. Large gaps in achievement remain between Israeli students and those in other countries participating in the OECD math and science PISA evaluation, and the percentage of students achieving very high scores on that same test is also much lower in Israel than in other countries.