Taub Center report: No evidence of decline in difficulty of matriculation exams

New study responds to criticism over matriculation exams in schools, finds higher scores not result of easier tests.

Hadassah's role in education (photo credit: courtesy of Hadassah Women's Zionist Organization )
Hadassah's role in education
(photo credit: courtesy of Hadassah Women's Zionist Organization )
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 new 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, following a range of critiques of 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 percent in 2012 - among non-Orthodox Jews the rate increased from 57 percent in 2006 to 67 percent in 2012, among Arab Israelis (excluding East Jerusalem) the rate increased from 35 percent to 42 percent and among Druze from 44 percent to 55 percent.  In contrast among ultra-Orthodox and Beduin there was little or no change between 2006 and 2012, remaining at eight percent and 28 to 29 percent, respectively.
“Although there have been changes in the past to the exams, and amongst them a reduction in the amount of material required (units of study) 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 Israeli pupils are devoting more time to their studies. Between the years of 1995 and 2010, the percentage of pupils studying the minimum number of units required for a matriculation certificate (21 units) declined from 38 percent to 29 percent; while the percent of pupils who studied for an extended matriculation exam (31 units or more) increased from 17 percent to 29 percent .
The data also showed that the average psychometric test score increased by 15 points between 2002 and 2012, from 603 to 618, 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 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.
According to his paper, Blass recommends a wide-ranging reform in the matriculation exams to include three key elements: tools, knowledge, and values.  He calls for the inclusion of subjects that are considered "essential tools for integration into society” such as mother tongue, foreign language, civics, computer skills, and mathematics as well as the incorporation of pupil’s grades from school, and an evaluation by educational staff on non-academic issues, such as behavior and volunteerism.