The yeshiva high school system* in Israel is elitist. To get in you need a good report card, high test scores, financial means, and, often, “protekzia.” There are alternatives—private programs for kids who don’t fit in to the yeshiva high school system, and public religious high schools. But those alternatives may have something of a stigma attached.
The admissions process until now didn’t help matters. Each yeshiva high school or ulpana test for a fee. If you did well, the school called you for an interview. Once accepted, you paid a nonrefundable deposit to hold your place.
Every school had a slightly different process. Some schools tested at the end of fifth grade, others in the winter of sixth grade. Weaker students had an especially hard time, running from school to school and taking tests they have little chance of passing.
The new director of the religious school system in the Education Ministry, Dr. Abraham Lifschitz, is instituting a new system for the coming year. A standardized test will be offered to every sixth-grader in the religious elementary schools. The tests will be graded centrally, and the results sent to whatever schools you indicate.
There are several advantages to the system:
- Reducing pressure on students who test poorly.
- No need to commit to one school before having answers from all.
- Save time and money on travel to different schools that students may not have a chance at getting into.
I discussed this with a friend who wondered if this system won’t create other problems. If parents can easily see which schools take kids with higher scores, it may increase elitism. On the other hand, every school places a different weight on each section of the test. Some schools ignore English scores, and pay attention mainly to gemara. At any rate, I think it’s best for schools to be open about their admissions standards.
If the system works well, the schools will feel pressure to admit students they might otherwise reject. According to Lifschitz:
“We are not asking the heads of the yeshivot and ulpanot to be completely heterogeneous. Rather, just to accept . . . a certain percentage of students who are not part of the school’s mainstream. These may be new immigrants via “Naaleh,” Ethiopians who until now did not attend, students with learning disabilities, or those not accepted because of a less religious background. Together with this, I don’t want to eliminate the exclusivity that the institution aspires to. Every school has its individuality and will continue to strengthen this.”
The date for the first test has been set for 20 Tevet 5771 (December 27, 2010).
Source: Makor Rishon, August 6, 2010.
*Yeshiva high school (yeshiva tichonit) is for boys in the religious Zionist school system. They offer both secular and religious studies, with several hours of Talmud study each day. The government pays for the secular studies and parents pay for the rest. Many offer dormitories. Ulpanot, the equivalent for girls, are not as competitive.