In only four years, Israeli pupils advanced leaps and bounds in math, science and reading readiness, according to test results released on Tuesday.
Glaring gaps remain, however, between Jewish and Arab children.
According to the 2011 Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) tests, Israeli pupils were above average in all categories.
The TIMSS tests were taken by fourth- and eighth-graders, and the PIRLS by fourth-graders.
The most outstanding improvement was registered in the mathematics section, where Israeli youngsters placed seventh out of 42 countries, after placing 24th in the previous test in 2007.
Israelis improved in all three categories.
They went from being the 25th to the 13th-ranked country in science, and went from 31st to 18th in reading readiness.
While Jewish pupils in Israel had an average score of 536 on the math portion (well above the average of 467), Arab pupils scored 465, which would place them in 21st place overall.
In the science portion Israel placed 13th with an average of 516 points, well above the overall average of 477. The disparities remained, as Jews scored an average of 530 points, enough to put them in ninth place if ranked separately, while Arabs scored 481, or the equivalent of 21st place. While both were above the average, a wide gap exists.
Possibly the largest discrepancy was in the reading readiness section, where Israel ranked 18th.
While Arabs were able to take the test in Arabic, they still scored only 479 points on average, below the overall average of 512. This is at the same time that Jews scored 568 points, as high as the second highest country on the list.
Jewish pupils on average were among the top 10 in all three categories and notched up significant improvements over the results four years ago.
The Abraham Fund Initiatives, an NGO devoted to advancing cooperation between Jews and Arabs in Israel, said Tuesday that “the results of the two tests present a picture of the gaps between the Jewish and Arab education systems. These results are mainly based on the improvements in the performance of Jewish students while at the same time Arab students improved in a much [more] moderate fashion.”
They added that the figures “are the result of unequal investment in the two education systems,” and that the disparity should indicate the need for the government to allocate the resources necessary to close these gaps.
When presenting the results, Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar said they illustrate a “revolution” in the education system, and marked improvements across all socioeconomic levels.
“The accomplishments of Israeli student in these tests indicate a revolution. In these tests Israeli students achieved the highest-ever results since they first began participating in them in the late ’90s across every socioeconomic level and were above the average in every ranking.”
Sa’ar also said the poor results last time were in part due to the country’s longestever teachers’ strike.
The test also indicated gaps based on youngsters’ socioeconomic background. Among poorer pupils, the math scores averaged 493, as opposed to 521 for middle class pupils and 565 for those at the top end of the socioeconomic ladder.
In science the scores were 491, 516 and 555, respectively, while in reading readiness they were 542, 556 and 586.
Prof. Yossi Yonah, No. 20 on the Labor Party candidates list, said that while the results showed improvements by Israeli youngsters, they also indicated that there were still deep between rich and poor.
“We must not ignore the disturbing fact that there are deep gaps between students based on their socioeconomic background,” he said.
Yonah mentioned bagrut matriculation scores released a month earlier, which he said led to similar conclusions, adding that the cutting of national education budgets was largely to blame.
The TIMMS was taken in May 2011, with 4,699 pupils from 151 schools across Israel taking part. The PIRLs test was administered at the same time to 4,186 youngsters in 152 schools. The Education Ministry said Tuesday that these schools were chosen by the testing organization and that they did not include the haredi school system.
TIMSS and PIRLS are both run by the International Study Center at Boston College.
According to the center, the tests are used to inform curriculum development and are a global, cooperative enterprise involving more than 60 countries. The first TIMSS test was held in 1995 and it is administered every four years in countries across the world.
The PIRLS was first conducted in 2001.