Achievements and Gaps: The Education System in Israel – A Status Report
Author: Nachum Blass Policy Research

This study examines educational achievement gaps by nationality and socioeconomic background. Findings indicate a continuous improvement – although the past few years have seen a slowdown – in student achievement for both Jews and Arabs, as well as a narrowing of the gaps between the national sectors, especially within similar socioeconomic groupings. Nevertheless, the gaps between strong and weak students remain great, and in an international comparison, Israel ranks low for student achievement and high for achievement gaps.

Attendance rates and gaps

The education system attempts to allow parents and student a certain amount of choice between frameworks to meet their varied needs, while trying to maintain equality. In some instances, variety causes segregation and a widening of gaps.

Preschool education

  • The gaps between attendance rates of 3–4-year-olds in Hebrew and Arab education have drastically declined over the past few decades: in the Arab education sector, attendance rates for 3-year-olds increased from 15% in 1982 to 72% in 2018 and for 4-year-olds from 30% in 1982 to 89% in 2018.
  • In the upper income quintiles, private expenditure on preschool education is much higher than in the lower ones, indicating the emergence of stratification. This did not change substantially after the implementation of the Compulsory Education Law for ages 3-4 in 2013.

Primary and middle school education

  • The share of those seeking private frameworks within the Hebrew system is low, while the share is more than 25% within the Arab system.
  • There has been a rise in the number of Arab Israeli parents who choose to send their children to schools in the Hebrew education system.
  • In middle school there is also grouping along educational criteria (which quite often coincide with socioeconomic background), creating differentiation along socioeconomic lines.

High school education

  • There are almost no Ministry of Education restrictions on admissions requirements and parents’ payments in high school, leading to more parent freedom and creating differentiation reflected in the socioeconomic composition of schools’ student bodies.
  • Within schools, differentiation is expressed for the most part in tracking into academic and technological education tracks.

Achievements and educational gaps

Scores have been improving and gaps narrowing since the start of international testing in the early 2000s and in the Meitzav exams since 2007. The trend is especially notable among Arab Israelis, although gaps remain large.

Primary school education

  • Between 2008 and 2017, student scores in the 5th grade Meitzav exams rose by about 13% in mathematics and about 8% in English, with the greatest gains in the Arab education system – 22% and 13% respectively.
  • Gaps between students in schools serving the most affluent population and those serving the weakest population have narrowed substantially – across the Hebrew and Arab education systems and within each system, in math and in English.
  • On the PIRLS exam, Israel ranks relatively low – 29 out of 50 countries, and relatively high in terms of student gaps – 13. The main reason is the large gap between students in Hebrew versus Arab education.

Middle school education

  • Achievement gaps on the 8th grade Meitzav exams are large between the Hebrew and Arab sectors in English, math, and science, although they have narrowed in all cases. Among those with similar socioeconomic backgrounds, gaps between the sectors are smaller and narrowing.
  • The gaps have narrowed most substantially in the sciences: the average score rose by 110 points in Arab education and by 79 points in Hebrew education.
  • On the TIMSS exams, scores increased at a faster rate than the average in other countries until 2011. This increase has since halted.

High school education

  • Bagrut qualification rates still rose substantially between 1990 and 2015.
  • For bagrut qualification that fulfills requirements for admission to higher education, student achievement gaps grew between students from different socioeconomic groupings among Jews, but did not change and even narrowed between Arab Israeli students.
  • Israel’s students’ PISA exam scores are lower than the overall OECD country average and the gaps between the strongest and the weakest students are the greatest.
  • Hebrew speaking students’ scores on the 2018 PISA exams were higher than the OECD average (506 versus 487), while the achievements of Arab speakers was much lower (362) and declined by almost 40 points between 2006 and 2018.