A recent study commissioned by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development shows that Israel has the largest gap between high achievement and low achievement students among developed countries.
The findings came from 2015 examinations of 15-year-olds by the Program for International Student Assessment, known as PISA, a worldwide academic study by the OECD, a grouping of mostly wealthy nations.
The achievement gap was highly correlated to both socioeconomic status and language, with low-income students and Arabic speakers doing significantly worse in mathematics, science and reading than their wealthier and Hebrew-speaking peers.
Even when taking students from families with similar levels of wealth, Hebrew speakers did much better than Arabic speakers in all of the subjects tested.
The large achievement gaps have not decreased from prior PISA studies, which are conducted every three years.
In both science and reading Israeli students did worse than in 2012, but they notched a minor improvement in mathematics.
The PISA findings echo last week’s publication of a 2015 report by Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS),a widely used international benchmark to compare academic achievement in mathematics and science, which found that Israeli students placed lower than in previous years in both disciplines.
According to TIMMS, Israeli eighth graders fell from 7th place to 16th place in 2011 in mathematics, and dropped to 19th place from 13th place in 2011 in science.
As with PISA, one of the most prominent findings from the TIMMS survey was the achievement gaps between Jewish and Arab children, with Jewish students scoring significantly better than their Arab peers in both mathematics and science.
Like PISA, TIMMS also found that Israel had the largest gap of any country between the percentage of students who are outstanding in mathematics and sciences and those who struggle. Thirteen percent of students excelled in mathematics in 2015, a rise from 12% in 2011, while 16% of students were reported to have had difficulties in mathematics in 2015, compared to 13% in 2011.
Similar statistics were seen in science, with 12% of students classed as excellent — up from 11% in 2011, while 16% were reported to have difficulties in 2015, compared to 12% four years prior.
Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Jewish Home) wrote in a Facebook post following the publication of the TIMMS survey last week that “we are in an emergency situation in the study of mathematics and science” and that the results of the test “lend credence to the understanding that Israel is in a major decline” in terms of academic achievement, comments he largely repeated on Tuesday following the release of the PISA results.
Bennett added at the time that since he took on the Education Ministry in 2015, after the tests were taken, Israel has adopted a new national curriculum in mathematics and science and that “the trend is already scaling back.”
However, as the TIMMS is done every five years and the PISA every three, it will not be known until at least 2018, when the next PISA study is done, whether Israel is able to staunch or reverse its downward slide in mathematics and science.