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The Scholastic Achievements of Arab Israeli Pupils
A new Taub Center study, coinciding with the start of the school year, shows that despite significant disparities in budget between the Jewish and Arab Israeli sectors, the scholastic achievements of Arab Israeli pupils have greatly improved
Many research studies conducted in the past have compared the scholastic achievements of pupils in the Jewish sector to those of pupils in the Arab Israeli sector, and have pointed to growing disparities between them. However, a new Taub Center study by Nachum Blass finds that there has been significant improvement in the achievements of Arab Israeli pupils in recent years and the gaps between this sector and the Jewish sector have narrowed. Despite the fact that there are still significant disparities in budget per pupil and per class, the gaps between the sectors in the level of education and seniority of teachers have almost completely closed, as have the gaps in the number of pupils per class.
The research finds that, when comparing pupils of similar socioeconomic backgrounds, the achievements of pupils in the Arab Israeli sector have improved considerably, approaching those of pupils in the Jewish sector– and even surpassing them in some areas. Thus, in order to narrow the gaps, we need to focus more generally on addressing socioeconomic issues.
The main study findings:
- There are considerable disparities in budget per pupil in the Arab Israeli sector and the Jewish sector (about NIS 20,000 per primary school pupil in the Jewish sector compared with about NIS 16,000 in the Arab Israeli sector), though the increase in budget per pupil over time was greater in the Arab Israeli sector.
- The share of teachers with an academic degree in the Arab Israeli sector exceeds the share within the Jewish sector.
- In primary and middle school, enrollment rates in the Arab Israeli sector have risen substantially, mostly among girls (from 59% to 94% between 1990 and 2015).
- The share of pupils taking matriculation exams in the Arab Israeli sector is similar to the share in the Jewish sector, and in the Druze sector the share is even higher.
- Gaps in pupil scores on math and science matriculation exams have narrowed; in English and computer science, the gaps remain large.
- There was a notable increase in the share of Arab Israelis admitted to higher education institutions, as well as in the share of academic degree holders who are Arab Israeli.
- With regard to pupils’ achievements on international exams, the gap between Jewish and Arab Israeli pupils on the high school PISA exams was large (104 points), and remained large when pupils were classified by socioeconomic background.
A new study by Taub Center Researcher Nachum Blass examines the changes that have taken place in the education system within the Arab Israeli sector, both in terms of resources allocated and educational outcomes. The study shows that, although there are still gaps between the Arab Israeli and Jewish sectors, education in the Arab Israeli sector has, in many respects, greatly improved.
One example of this is the quality of teachers. Blass shows that the share of teachers with an academic degree in the Arab Israeli sector exceeds the share in the Jewish sector at every level of education (95% versus 91% in early childhood education, for example). The share of teachers with a Master’s degree has grown at a faster rate and is approaching that of Jewish teachers, even though in post-primary education there are still notable gaps between the sectors in this regard (about 29% in the Arab Israeli sector compared with 43% in the Jewish sector).
Another aspect examined in the research is class size. Blass shows that the Ministry of Education’s efforts to reduce the size of classes did not bring about considerable change in the Jewish sector, but in the Arab Israeli sector the results were more impressive; in 2015, the number of pupils per class in Arab Israeli primary and middle schools was lower than in the Jewish sector, and only in high school was it higher.
Enrollment rates in the Arab Israeli sector increased substantially, especially among girls
The Taub Center study shows that within only 15 years, the Arab Israeli sector has almost completely closed the gap in enrollment rates for 4-5-year-olds. Enrollment rates in primary and middle school have also grown and have reached almost full enrollment. Since 1990, enrollment has risen from 90% to 97% in the Jewish sector and from 63% to 93% in the Arab sector. Particularly striking is the rise in enrollment among girls in the Arab Israeli sector, from 59% to 94%.
In addition, there was an increase in the percentage of Arab Israelis admitted to higher education institutions within Israel and in the share of Arab Israeli degree holders out of all degree holders, as well as a decline in the share of Arab Israelis not accepted to Bachelor’s and Master’s programs. Furthermore, thousands of Arab Israeli students study in academic institutions in Jordan, in the Palestinian Authority, and in other countries.
Despite this progress, it is important to note that in 2015 only 36% of Arab Israelis aged 25-34 had more than 13 years of schooling, compared with 72% among Jews of the same ages.
The scholastic achievements of the Arab Israeli sector rose in a number of subjects and, when classifying pupils by socioeconomic background, the gaps between the two sectors narrowed
The 2016 RAMA (the National Authority for Measurement and Evaluation) data indicate that among Arabic-speaking pupils, there was a substantial increase in math scores and a moderate increase in English scores on the fifth grade Meitzav exams. These increases narrowed the gaps between the Arab Israeli and Jewish sectors in these subjects. On the eighth grade test the gap in scores narrowed in science and technology, but the gap in math scores increased, and the gap in English remained unchanged.
In his study, Blass shows that the differences in scores over the last ten years on all subjects are indeed large in fifth and eighth grades (26 on English in fifth grade, 63 in eighth grade). However, when the pupils of each sector are divided into three groups according to the school’s nurture index, the differences in scores are much lower: in both fifth and eighth grades the differences are cut in about half (in the lowest socioeconomic group – a gap of 14 points on the English exam in fifth grade, and 33 points in eighth grade). In the middle socioeconomic group, the scores of the Arab Israeli pupils sometimes exceed those of the Jewish pupils.
According to Blass, the gaps may actually be even smaller: “Dividing pupils into three groups by nurture index is too crude and undercuts the achievements of pupils in the Arab Israeli sector because the proportion of pupils within the Arab Israeli sector who belong to the weaker socioeconomic deciles is higher than that of the Jews,” he says. “Within the weakest socioeconomic group, the proportion of Arab Israeli pupils from the low socioeconomic backgrounds is higher than the share of Jewish pupils, and it is reasonable to assume that the average score of Arab Israeli pupils in these weaker groups is lower than that of Jewish pupils.” Blass suggests a more nuanced division into deciles according to nurture index may present the achievements of Arab Israeli pupils in a more positive light.
The improvement in the achievements of Arab Israeli pupils is also apparent at older ages. The share of those taking the matriculation exams in the Arab Israeli sector is similar to that in the Jewish sector (81% versus 84%), and in the Druze sector it is even higher (90%). The gap between Jewish and Arab Israeli pupils in the percentage who qualify for a matriculation certificate out of those who took the exams has dropped from 17% in 2000 to 12% in 2015. Since 2000, the rate of improvement in the Bedouin sector has been similar to that in the Jewish sector and the percentage of Druze pupils who qualify for a matriculation certificate is about 66% – higher than that of Jewish pupils, which stands at 62%.
Between 2005 and 2014, there was a significant drop in the number of Jewish pupils taking the matriculation exams, mainly for demographic reasons: a reduction in the size of the age cohorts and an increase in the proportion of Haredi pupils within the cohorts. In the Arab Israeli sector, on the other hand, the number of those taking the matriculation exams almost doubled.
What about qualifying for a matriculation certificate? Classifying pupils taking the matriculation exams by math level indicates that in the Jewish sector there has been a large decrease in the number of pupils taking four or five units of math, and an increase in the number of pupils taking three units of math. In the Arab Israeli sector, the number of pupils taking the exam at the four-unit level rose by about 2%, those taking five units of math dropped by about 3%, and the number taking three units rose by more than 100%. This increase reflects the positive development that there is a greater percentage of pupils from weak socioeconomic backgrounds among those qualifying for a matriculation certificate. The average score of those who take the matriculation exams is very similar in all sectors.
In English, on the other hand, the success gaps are still large: in the Jewish sector 58% pass the exams, in the Arab Israeli sector – 14%, and in the Druze sector – 25%. In chemistry and biology there was an increase in the percentage of those qualifying for matriculation exams in the Arab Israeli sector, and the share is greater than the share of those qualifying in the Jewish sector. A possible explanation for this is a growing awareness among parents and pupils of the potential benefit of pursuing professions that enable integration and advancement and tend to be more common within the Arab Israeli population, such as the pharmacy and medical fields. The share of Arab Israeli pupils passing the physics and computer science matriculation exams actually decreased, and was lower than the share in the Jewish sector.
Achievements on international exams: improvement has halted within Israel’s borders
In contrast to the achievements presented thus far, Blass shows that the gaps between the sectors have narrowed to a lesser degree on international exams, and in some cases have remained unchanged – even among pupils from similar socioeconomic backgrounds. On the 2011 PIRLS exam (primary school), Blass found that the stronger the socioeconomic background, the higher the exam score, and the gaps showing an advantage for Jewish pupils did not narrow when classifying pupils by socioeconomic groups.
A similar relationship between exam scores and socioeconomic background is also found on the 2015 TIMSS exam (middle school). The gap between the scores of all Jewish pupils and all Arab Israeli pupils is large (70 points) but, when comparing pupils of the same socioeconomic background, the gap between the average math score in each sector is relatively small: only 12 points in the highest socioeconomic group. It follows that at least some of the gap in math scores between the two sectors are rooted in the pupils’ socioeconomic backgrounds.
On the 2015 PISA exam (high school), the overall gap between the sectors stands at 104 points (out of 800), and mostly remains even when pupils were classified by socioeconomic background. Within the lowest socioeconomic group, the gap between the sectors was reduced to 67 points, in the middle group it remains similar to the overall gap, and in the high socioeconomic group the gap is even larger.
Why are the scholastic and educational achievements of Arab Israeli pupils similar to those of Jewish pupils in some areas (and even higher in some cases) while in other areas their achievements are much lower? Many claim that test scores do not reflect pupils’ true abilities, due to a large-scale phenomenon of copying answers. However, data from the Ministry of Education (2017) show that the percentage of voided exams due to cheating stands at less than 1%. Even if there is indeed large-scale copying on tests, it does not explain the high rates of enrollment and exam-taking. Another possible explanation is the crude division of pupils into three groups by sector and nurture index level, which underestimates the achievements of Arab Israeli pupils, as discussed above.
Taub Center researcher Nachum Blass sums up his findings by saying, “the large gap in achievement between Jewish pupils and Arab Israeli pupils can be explained to a great extent by their socioeconomic backgrounds, and, if we want to reduce this gap, we should focus more generally on addressing socioeconomic issues.”
The Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel is an independent, non-partisan socioeconomic research institute. The Center provides decision makers and the public with research and findings on some of the most critical issues facing Israel in the areas of education, health, welfare, labor markets and economic policy in order to impact the decision making process in Israel and to advance the well-being of all Israelis.
For details, or to arrange an interview, please contact Anat Sella-Koren, Director of Marketing, Communications and Government Relations at the Taub Center for Social Policy Studies in Israel: 050-690-9749.