Gaps Between Jewish and Arab High School Students in Matricu...

Gaps Between Jewish and Arab High School Students in Matriculation Exam Achievements

June 25, 2019


The Chief Economist’s Office under the Ministry of Finance issues a “Weekly Economic Report” focusing on different aspects of the Israeli economy. A recent report focused on matriculation gaps between Jewish and Arab high school graduates (full report in Hebrew).

Of all the tests taken by students throughout their high school years, matriculation exams and the psychometric test most affect access to higher education, the report states, making it important to examine and address social gaps and achievements so that these test scores do not prevent Arab students from enrolling in university.

The report focuses on the size of the current gaps, and whether they can be attributed to specific stages of education. The writers examine barriers affecting gaps through 8th grade (when the Standardized Tests – MEITZAV – are taken, providing data about relative academic levels) and barriers between grades 9 and 12, leading up to the matriculation exams at the end of high school.

Determining the importance of each educational stage, elementary school through 8th grade and high school, and how barriers in each period affect achievement gaps, “could be important in formulating an informed [government] policy that aims to narrow gaps and strive for equal opportunities.”

Main Findings

The report concludes that despite improvements in the Arab education system, matriculation gaps remain large, with the main barriers to parity appearing during the high school years. There are especially large gaps in English-language skills, and Arab boys face more barriers than girls.

The following graph shows achievement levels among Jewish and Arab high school graduates in attaining a full matriculation diploma and a “qualitative” matriculation diploma.[1] The graph compares 12th grade students in the Jewish and the Arab education systems:

Media imageThe graph shows that while the Arab education system has seen an improvement of close to 17 percentage points between 2000 and 2016, the Jewish education system has also improved in a similar rate and thus gaps between the two systems remain the same. The report goes on to state that the gap is probably even larger because the Jewish education system surveyed includes Haredi schools where students do not take matriculation exams.

The report then compares matriculation achievements of Jewish and Arab students to their 8th grade achievements, in an effort to compare the effects on outcomes of elementary school and high school education. The research focuses on a sample of almost 20,000 students – 5,500 Arab and 14,000 non-Haredi Jews - born in 1995, who took their 8th grade MEITZAV exams in 2009 and their high school matriculation exams in 2013.

The following table summarizes these achievements and, accordingly, the chance of these students to reach high level English and Math matriculation exams:


Jewish boys

Jewish girls

Arab boys

Arab girls






8th grade MEITZAV math average (on a scale of 1-100)





8th grade MEITZAV English average (on a scale of 1-100)





Average percentage of those awarded a matriculation diploma





Chance of reaching 4-5 point math exam





Chance of reaching 5 point English exam






Following are the major conclusions of the report:

  1. MEITZAV achievements: Most of the Arab students are in the bottom half of MEITZAV 8th grade exam achievements, with especially low scores in English language.
  2. Reaching matriculation exams (being tested): A student’s 8th grade score affects his or her chances to take matriculation exams, but Arab students take the exams less frequently than Jewish counterparts, even if they had similar MEITZAV achievements, with the gap most pronounced between Arab and Jewish boys. The report concludes that Arab boys drop out of high school at the highest rates in the population, with even the boys who formally stay in school receiving little benefit from the education system.
  3. Receiving a matriculation diploma: Gaps here are large between Jewish and Arab students of both genders, although again larger among boys.
  4. How gaps originate: The report states that the most significant gaps in matriculation achievements stem from barriers encountered during high school education. Thus, even if Jewish and Arab students attained the same MEITZAV scores in 8th grade, significant gaps would open as a result of “less efficient education later on.” The difference in high school education quality is most notable for its impact on Arab girls, as the report concludes that even if they attained MEITZAV scores equal to those of Jewish girls, their chances to reach a matriculation diploma would only increase by a single percentage point (of a 16% gap). Among Arab boys, equal achievements in the MEITZAV exam would close the gap by 40%, but 60% of the gap would remain due to barriers encountered during their high school education.


[1] According to the Ministry of Education definitions, a “qualitative” matriculation diploma includes high level English and math tests (4-5 points in each), plus two major subjects, either scientific or humanistic, with a total grade average of above 80.

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