The Scholastic Achievements of Arab Israeli Pupils
Author: Nachum Blass
August 30, 2017
Click here to read the full research study – currently available in Hebrew ONLY.
What are the differences between the educational achievements of Arab Israeli and Jewish students in Israel?
Many educational research studies have explored this question in the past and pointed to disparities between the two sectors. However, Researcher Nachum Blass finds that there has been significant improvement in the achievements of Arab Israeli students in recent years and that the gaps between this sector and the Jewish sector have narrowed.
In particular, when comparing students of similar socioeconomic backgrounds, the achievements of students in the Arab Israeli sector have improved considerably, approaching those of students in the Jewish sector – and even surpassing them in some areas.
To compare the two sectors, it is important to look both at resources allocated to each sector and at educational outcomes – that is, the achievements of the students.
Trends in resource allocation: budgets, quality teachers, and smaller classes
Despite disparities in budget per student and per class, the gaps in teacher quality and number of students per class have nearly closed between the sectors.
Considerable disparities remain in budget per student in the Arab Israeli sector and the Jewish sector. While NIS 20,000 was allocated per primary school student in the Jewish sector in 2015, only about NIS 16,000 was allocated for a primary school student in the Arab Israeli sector in the same year. Nonetheless, the per student budget has increased more rapidly over time in the Arab Israeli sector than in the Jewish sector.
In educational research, teacher quality is often indicated by teachers’ level of education. The share of teachers with an academic degree in the Arab Israeli sector actually exceeds the share in the Jewish sector at every level of education. For example, 95% of teachers in early childhood education in the Arab Israeli sector have an academic degree versus 91% in the Jewish sector. In addition, the share of teachers with a Master’s degree is growing and approaching that of Jewish teachers, even though in post-primary education there are still notable gaps between the sectors in this regard.
Though the Ministry of Education’s efforts to reduce the size of classes did not bring about considerable change in the Jewish sector, the results were more impressive in the Arab Israeli sector. By 2015, the number of students per class in Arab Israeli primary and middle schools was lower than in the Jewish sector, and only in high school was it higher.
Trends in educational outcomes: enrollment, scholastic achievements, and international exams
More Arab Israeli students are enrolled in school and higher education, and scholastic achievements in this sector rose in a number of subjects. However, certain educational gaps remain, including on international exam scores.
Enrollment rates in Arab Israeli primary and middle schools have risen from 63% in 1990 to 93% in 2015, whereas there was already 90% enrollment in the Jewish sector in 1990, which has since increased to 97%. Particularly striking is the rise in enrollment among girls in the Arab Israeli sector: from 59% to 94% during this period. In addition, there was an increase in the percentage of Arab Israelis admitted to higher education institutions within Israel and in the share of all degree holders in Israel who are Arab Israeli. Despite this progress, it is important to note that in 2015 a much smaller percentage of Arab Israeli young adults (25-34) had more than 13 years of schooling than among Jews: only 36% as compared with 72%.
In terms of achievements, there was a substantial increase in math scores between 2007 and 2016 and a moderate increase in English scores among Arab Israeli students on the fifth grade Meitzav exams, which 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 during the same period, but the gap in math scores increased, and the gap in English remained unchanged. Classifying students into three socioeconomic groups, and comparing between students of similar socioeconomic background, cuts the gap in English scores between Jewish and Arab Israeli students in about half. These gaps might be even smaller if students’ achievements were analyzed after an even more nuanced division into ten socioeconomic groups.
The share of those taking the matriculation exams in the Arab Israeli sector is similar to that in the Jewish sector, and the gap between Jewish and Arab Israeli students 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. While there have been some improvements on the math, chemistry, and biology matriculation exams for Arab Israeli students, the success gaps are still large on the English matriculation exams: in the Jewish sector 58% pass the exams, in the Arab Israeli sector – 14%, and in the Druze sector – 25%.
In contrast to the achievements mentioned above, the gaps between the sectors have narrowed to a lesser degree on international exams, and in some cases have remained unchanged – even among students from similar socioeconomic backgrounds. On the 2011 PIRLS exam (primary school), there was a correlation between stronger socioeconomic background and higher exam scores, and the gaps showing an advantage for Jewish students did not narrow when classifying students by socioeconomic groups. A similar relationship between exam scores and socioeconomic background is also found on the 2015 TIMSS exam (middle school) but, when comparing students of the same socioeconomic background, the gap between the average math score in each sector became much smaller. This may show that at least some of the gap in math scores between the two sectors are rooted in the students’ socioeconomic backgrounds. On the 2015 PISA exam (high school), however, the overall gap between the sectors mostly remains even when students were classified by socioeconomic background.
What can be done?
Despite the educational disparities between the Jewish and Arab Israeli sectors in certain areas, the scholastic achievements of Arab Israeli students have greatly improved. The gaps appear to be even smaller when comparing students of similar socioeconomic standing, which shows that the large gap in achievement between Jewish students and Arab Israeli students can be explained to a great extent by their socioeconomic backgrounds. If we want to reduce this gap, we should focus more generally on addressing socioeconomic issues between the two sectors.