A reader whose child was being tested for giftedness asked me to write about the Education Ministry’s programs.
Israeli children are tested for giftedness in second or third grade, depending on the municipality. To be accepted into the education ministry’s programming for the following year, a child must pass two tests.
The first test, known as Shlav Aleph, takes place within the school. Parents are notified in advance so they can opt out. Usually schools send the five top-scoring children from each class to the second test. If your child isn’t chosen, it’s relatively easy to get accepted for the second test.
The second test, Shlav Bet, is administered in a local elementary school by a testing agency. There are five parts: math, reading comprehension, word analogies, general knowledge, and a fifth part, probably visual series but I am not sure. I heard once that the general knowledge section is not counted in the final score. There is talk about rewriting the test because it grades achievement and not innate intelligence. About two-thirds of the children who pass are boys.
Each section is timed individually, so children should try to answer every question. There are people who prepare children privately for the test. No one can say whether this helps, and the education ministry does not approve. Parents might be better off spending their money on some other kind of enrichment suited to their child.
The education ministry recognizes the difficulties of new immigrants and makes the test available in English and Russian. There is even a way for bilingual children to opt out of the verbal section. Immigrants who have been here a few years might not have kept up in their native language, and their Hebrew does not yet reflect their high ability. Children with learning disabilities can take the test under relaxed conditions.
Some private schools allow students to be tested and some don’t. However, you can test privately for a reasonable fee. This may be an option if you feel your child should have passed, because if you appeal you have to wait until the next year to test again through the education ministry.
About 1-1.5% of schoolchildren pass the second test. The percentage is calculated by geographical area, meaning that scores of “gifted” children in a development town will generally be lower than those from a wealthier area. The top 5% of scorers are eligible for an after-school “excellence” program.
There are two types of gifted programs in Israeli schools.
Some larger cities have a gifted class.The children who pass the test in a given year are bussed to that school and are taught by a teacher trained in gifted education. This class stays together through 12th grade and starts taking university classes in high school through the Open University. Petach Tikva’s gifted class serves children in the secular school system from the surrounding areas.
In some areas children attend a pull-out program one full day a week. In Petach Tikva, the religious schools are served by a pull-out program. They don’t learn the regular school subjects on a higher level like they do in the gifted class. The children receive three high-quality chugim, enrichment courses, for the cost of one. The municipality contributes funds, so children from outside of Petach Tikva pay more. Scholarships are available and a group of Ethiopian children participated for a while.
The organizer of the pull-out program, a teacher in the religious girls’ high school, looks for teachers enthusiastic about their subjects. She gives them a budget and a lot of leeway. Courses have included astronomy, law, medicine, art, photography, logic, comics, rocketry, and microbiology.
Which is better, a gifted class or a pull-out program?
The gifted six-day-a-week class offered by the secular system is considered stressful and competitive, although a lot may depend on the individual class. These kids have less interaction with the “normal” people that they will have to deal with for the rest of their lives. On the other hand, the once-a-week program is not nearly enough for many kids who suffer from boredom in a regular class. This isn’t always a function of intelligence—personality plays a large role. Some super-bright kids find a way to get the right kind of stimulation, and some don’t. But a gifted child who doesn’t complain or act out may still not be getting what he or she needs in the classroom. And it is difficult to address those needs in a regular Israeli classroom.
The program in the religious schools finishes in sixth grade. They have tried to add a year or two, but fewer children are interested at that point. Some junior high schools don’t have regular classes on Friday, so the kids don’t get the attraction of missing a day of school.
College in high school
The programs are not free, and children and parents opt out for financial or other reasons. But even if your child doesn’t plan to participate, it may be worthwhile to take the test. Children on the education ministry’s list of gifted students can get a 50% tuition refund for university courses taken in high school. The Open University welcomes capable high school students (not only those who have passed the test) with open arms. All you need is a report card and a recommendation from the school. Credits from the Open University can be transferred. Other universities may require completion of the bagrut (matriculation exam) in a particular subject.
You can find more information in Hebrew at the Education Ministry’s Gifted Department website (Internet Explorer only) and in English.
Open University’s Guide for High School Students (Hebrew)
A reader asked me to post a link to the private, Bar-Ilan, accelerated math program. It begins in 7th grade and holds classes throughout the country.