When the electronic media recently reported the results of
the MITZAV (School Efficacy and Growth Assessment) tests
conducted in 5763, the disclosure forced the Education
Ministry to release the results in full and to raise the
issue on the public agenda. Not only did the education system
have to face an unsympathetic critique, but parents and
students were also censured.
MITZAV testing is a fairly new invention and replaces the
Mashov tests conducted in past years. First conducted in 5762
they were slated to be held annually, near the beginning of
the school year. Each time the tests are administered to 50
percent of 5th and 8th grade classes in the country, in
government, government-religious and non-Jewish schools.
Less than one year ago the results of the international PISA
tests drew a flurried reaction when Israel ranked far behind
most of the countries where the tests were conducted. Are
Israeli students being barraged with comparative assessment
Dr. B. Kramersky, head of the department of teacher training
at Bar-Ilan University and one of the administrators of the
PISA tests, sets the record straight. The MITZAV test, she
explains, is built on the same principle as the PISA test,
which is an international exam held once every three years
under UNESCO sanction. Like the MITZAV test the PISA test
evaluates both scholastic achievement and teacher-student-
parent relations in order to understand the ties between
achievement and learning conditions.
Last year's PISA results were disastrous for Israel. For
example, in the tests held in 1999 only 5 percent of Israeli
students reached a level of excellence, compared to 46
percent of students from Singapore. The average score in math
for 8th grade students was 57, and 70 for 4th grade students.
The average score in algebra for 8th grade students was a
mere 40. In general, Israel ranked 28th out of 38 countries
tested, after ranking 6th in 1984 and first in arithmetic in
1964. Apparently Israeli education has been regressing for
decades and is rapidly heading toward Third World levels.
The Knesset Education Committee held a series of meetings
following the PISA results. During the meetings Professor Z.
Mevarech, head of the PISA project in Israel, and Dr.
Kramersky, her research partner, presented the findings of
the international study, findings that offered the committee
In the last of the meetings the two researchers presented the
report's findings on student attitudes. They found that the
older the student the lower his attendance rate drops. Some
students do not come at all, come late or come on time but do
not participate in class. In Israel, pressure to achieve is
below the international average. Principals and students
report discipline is inadequate in schools. Teacher morale is
tied to student achievement.
Yet surprisingly the exams showed teacher-student relations
are better than the international average. Apparently Israeli
students simply feel good because they do not relate to their
teachers with respect and do not feel pressure to achieve or
compete. Israel is near the bottom of the ranking in terms of
pressure to succeed. Meanwhile the teachers don't feel as
comfortable with their students and report increasing
violence and a fear of having eggs thrown at them--or worse--
were they to try to impose discipline. For this reason Israel
is in first place in the world in terms of feelings of
belonging to the school. How is this? Simple. School is the
most readily available place to meet with friends.
In the MITZAV tests 20 percent of Israeli students admit they
are afraid to come to school due to fears of violence.
The Education Ministry saw it was headed for trouble and
decided to conduct a similar test in a made-in-Israel
version. The task of writing the test was given to an extra-
ministerial team and the test was accompanied by a
questionnaire about the atmosphere at the school, the
competence of the teaching staff, the relations between
teachers and administrators, etc.
When the results came in the researchers, educators and
public figures did not where to start. The poor scholastic
achievement? The conspicuous class gaps? The growing violence
and the scornful attitude toward the school? The need for a
major change in the prevailing worldview that fosters greater
respect for the student than for the teacher?
"It's not clear which is the chicken and which is the egg,"
said Dr. Kramersky. What is clear, however, is that there is
plenty to fix.
"The low score in reading comprehension," adds Dr. Kramersky,
"indicates a significant problem created long before the
test. The problem is that students do not read in depth. They
simply do not understand the text. Or maybe the teachers are
not teaching right. There is no teaching strategy. Students
are not being taught how to learn. Teachers place great
emphasis on review and not on understanding. Although
quantitative demands are made, this does not have to be at
the expense of comprehension. And this does not apply only to
understanding a literary excerpt. To know math, as well, one
must understand how to read the problem correctly.
"In general," continues Dr. Kramersky, "we must learn not to
deceive ourselves. Not to read vaguely, to understand
vaguely. We do everything approximately and not precisely.
Not from start to finish."
How can the tests change the situation? "If we analyze and
search for the source for the students' errors and do not
satisfy ourselves with excuses that the student does not
listen, thinking can be changed. In theory the principals are
supposed to receive the results of the tests conducted in
their schools and they may also receive the students'
workbooks. They are supposed to scrutinize the tests and take
stock of the problems. Sometimes students develop an
incorrect model of understanding and they follow it for
years. Proper follow-up will get to the root of the
Dr. Kramersky stresses the importance of advanced teaching
courses, saying perhaps public pressure, particularly from
parents, will compel teachers to brush up on their
pedagogical training. She makes positive note of the chareidi
education system for encouraging advanced training as well as
chareidi teachers' feelings of mission. According to the
findings of the PISA test, she says, chareidi teachers were
happier with their work and had a greater desire to continue
to learn. They are absent for less than their counterparts in
the government education system and take their jobs more
seriously. And there's no comparing discipline at chareidi
schools to discipline at government schools.
"Once I suggested requiring students to stand up when the
teacher steps in the classroom," recalls Dr. Kramersky. "This
is not just a measure of respect for the teacher, but a means
of focus. In secular classrooms 20 minutes of every class
session are wasted until the students begin to listen and the
teacher can start to teach. Class time is not used properly.
There is no discipline and students are given too much
freedom, a result of an incorrect viewpoint--like a golem who
rises up against his creator."
And if there is no discipline, would the students really
stand up when the teacher stepped into the classroom?
Obviously such a thing cannot be established without it being
a system-wide decision with appropriate backing. But for now
that backing does not exist and a way of maintaining
discipline in schools to improve the level of learning has
not yet been found.
"The chareidi education system has nothing to be ashamed of
in terms of its scholastic achievements as well," adds Dr.
Kramersky, who was in charge of the Pisa exams and summarized
"The figures reflect Israeli society, which is without
direction and without ideology and with violence," said Yuli
Tamir at the Education Committee meeting. Professor Yaakov
Katz, chairman of the Education Ministry's pedagogical
secretariat and one of the central decision-makers, said,
"Today there is no balance between the rights of the
talmid and the teacher's ability to impose discipline.
We have lost the teacher's ability to deter and he is afraid
to take action and report. There are directives, but there is
a reluctance to implement them."
In response, Mr. Ilan Bahiri and Mr. Dorot, representing
teachers on the committee, blamed the Education Ministry.
"Teachers lack authority," they said, "because there is no
Education Ministry backing. A law defining the teacher's
authority should be initiated as a counterbalance to the
student's rights law."
The situation must be very severe if outspoken secular
figures such as MKs and education figures are no longer
burying their heads in the sand and blaming the lazy or
disruptive student for the education system's ills. The
scientific results, expressed statistically, compelled even
those who wanted to sweep the problems under the carpet and
begin to confront the reality.
That the police have become regular guests at schools is
nothing new. What is new is that even people whose way of
thinking is entirely secular and who felt government
education represented their worldview are also beginning to
ask, "Where did we go wrong?"
And they know the answer: the government education system has
no values to teach.
"On the cultural level we live in a society that has greatly
diminished reverence for education, culture and fairness,"
said Dr. Nimrod Aloni of the Kibbutz Seminary, considered one
of the leading thinkers in the education world in Israel.
"What is important here is success, potential and
superficiality. The student absorbs this message from all of
the most influential bodies, led by the political
establishment and the Knesset."
Ignorance and superficiality are also manifested among MKs.
Dr. Aloni recalls that when the issue of going up to the
Temple Mount arose, two MKs supported it enthusiastically.
When asked about their knowledge of the history of the Temple
Mount and who built Beis Hamikdosh, one of them said
Moshe's brother Aharon built it while they other said he
Dr. Aloni further claims that the "ratings culture"--or
perhaps "the lack of culture" is more apt--has led to weak
thinking. "The ratings culture chews up the message well
before it asks you to consume it. It does not demand that you
exert yourself or think. Furthermore, life has been
commercialized. The culture of material consumption replaces
higher and more profound culture."
Dr. Aloni also speaks about the class gap in the field of
education. Students from the lower socioeconomic rungs and
out-of-the-way towns must make do with what they get at
school, whereas students from well-off families, at
prestigious schools and in upper-tenth neighborhoods use the
school as a springboard for enrichment programs, private
tutors and even private institutes. The results are
The MITZAV tests do not overlook this variance either, with
references to the "cultivated tenth." The charts demonstrate
that in every subject the scores of the well-off are higher
than the scores of the underprivileged. The disparity is
particularly evident in the area of language skills.
According to researchers, students from well-to-do homes are
in a proper linguistic environment. Parents use correct or
high language and their children read well-written books and
are exposed to literary stimuli. Various materials are at
their disposal and they develop their linguistic facilities
"The gaps among Israeli students are so immense," says
Professor Mevarech, "that Israel is ranked in second place
among 41 countries in inequality in the area of reading, and
in first place in the areas of math and science."
"The traditional Jewish values were always education and
social justice," concludes Dr. Aloni. "The Jews never
controlled empires, but they always looked out for the
foreigner, the orphan and the widow. Today we lag behind the
world in these two areas. The state of Israel betrayed the
fundamental values of Judaism."
How unfortunate it is that Dr. Aloni, along with the members
of the Knesset Education Committee and the heads of the
Education Ministry, particularly their respective heads, did
not take another brave step forward by admitting that all of
the ails of the education system stem from the betrayal of