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Education minister unveils matriculation reform, riling teachers

Changes will bring new style of study and testing for history, literature, civics, and biblical studies; minister says change needed to match modern world

Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton speaks during a press conference on the school matriculation examination reform in Tel Aviv on April 26, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton speaks during a press conference on the school matriculation examination reform in Tel Aviv on April 26, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton presented Tuesday a planned reform for high school matriculation, under which some testing will be replaced with new methods of study, work, and evaluation.

The changes will see the written exams for history, literature, civics, and biblical studies canceled and replaced by class projects and multidisciplinary work that are graded internally by each school, alongside an external assessment.

In each of those subjects, teachers will select projects for 10th and 11th grade students to choose from. Work for matriculation, known as bagrut, will include a range of new materials and formats, with students preparing individual projects and oral presentations.

Twelfth-grade matriculation projects are to be assessed by an external examiner, with an overall final mark made up of the school’s own grading and that of the external assessment, in equal parts. The external score will be marked on written work and a frontal presentation of the project.

Testing for mathematics, English, language, and science subjects will continue as in the past, with externally-set written tests.

The new program is to be implemented next year for 10th graders.

Yehud Comprehensive High School students take their matriculation exams in Yehud on July 8, 2020. (Yossi Zeliger/ Flash90)

“Today’s world is changing at a rapid pace and the study method needs to adapt itself also in matriculation,” Shasha-Biton said. “Our goal is to give students tools that will serve them in their personal futures, professional and academic. That will give them a relevant, in-depth learning experience, one that will be engraved in their minds for years to come.”

However, the Israel Teachers Union claimed that it has not yet reached an agreement with the Education Ministry about the changes, due to objections from the Finance Ministry.

The Treasury’s resistance to the changes, the union said, testifies to the reform’s “harm to the humanities subjects and the teaching public.”

Shasha-Biton hit back by saying she understands the concerns of teachers over how the reform may impact their wages, but stressed there would be no negative impact on their terms of employment or earnings.

The minister said in a statement that she was confident that once the union has been reassured in writing, it will also give its support to the changes.

Matriculation exams can have a significant impact on a student’s future. Scores are a major criteria examined in applications to elite military units and academic institutions. The bagrut certificate is awarded to students who pass the required examinations with a mark of 56% or higher in each area of study.

The bagruyot reform is the latest in a series of systemic changes that Shasha-Biton has led since her appointment as education minister in June 2021.

In January, the minister announced a plan for giving school principals more financial autonomy. According to the plan, each principal will receive a budget of NIS 250,000 and NIS 1 million, based on the school’s size and socioeconomic status, so that they have more freedom to pursue their educational goals.

Israel is considered an exceptionally centralized system when it comes to its educational decision-making processes, leaving school principals virtually powerless to maneuver within the system. According to the plan, expected to begin next year, they will have more flexibility to respond to their students’ specific needs.

Tobias Siegal contributed to this report. 

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