Supreme Court President Asher Grunis on Wednesday gave the Education Ministry 100 days to come up with a solution the would enable ultra-Orthodox students to take national standardized tests, and warned that if it failed to do so, schools whose pupils didn’t take the tests could face sanctions.
The decision comes amid an escalated recent debate regarding state funding for schools that don’t teach English, math and other “core” subjects.
The exams in question are taken by Israeli students in the 5th and 8th grades, gauging their knowledge of English, mathematics and science as well as their native language (Hebrew or Arabic), and indexing results over time. Students in the 2nd grade are tested only on their mother tongue.
All of the tests are based on the core subjects that every school is meant to teach its pupils — subjects largely ignored by ultra-Orthodox educational institutions, even those funded by the state.
“If there is no change, there won’t be any option but to use sanctions,” Grunis said in a response to a petition submitted to the High Court of Justice by the Israel Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism.
The court “sent an unequivocal message to the Education Ministry,” telling it to stop turning a blind eye to the situation in ultra-Orthodox education, Rabbi Gilad Kariv of the movement told Yedioth Ahronoth. “This message must be translated into significant action by the government.”
Attorney Adiel Glass, who represented the ultra-Orthodox Shas party’s network of schools, said his clients didn’t want to teach the subjects or have pupils take the exams. The ultra-Orthodox schools don’t want to cancel Jewish Torah classes, Glass told reporters. “We’re cooperating and, at the end of the day, if we’re forced to, we’ll cooperate. But if you ask us, we don’t want to” take the exams, he said.
The fight over the content taught in state-sponsored schools has been raging for years, with the ultra-Orthodox trying to avoid teaching subject they believe to be “problematic” and other groups seeking to force them to teach the “core subjects” of other Western education systems.