The Israeli Ministry of Education likes to portray itself as an open-minded body that welcomes and aides those with special needs and learning disabilities. It follows laws and guidelines aimed at protecting the rights of these students. It sets up committees to ensure that students are placed in the correct educational environment. The students undergo evaluations every few years that reassess their situation. Teachers, parents and students are involved in this process.

Special education teachers are some of the most dedicated and caring in their profession. They go above and beyond the call of duty for their students, even teaching classes during vacation times to ensure continuity for those studying for Bagrut (matriculation) examinations. These teachers know, as do the parents of these kids, that for students with such issues continuity and preparation are vital and cannot be compromised.

So why has the Ministry of Education, which is apparently full of experts on this topic, failed to understand this simple point?

In its infinite wisdom, the Ministry of Education decided, two weeks before this year’s English exam, to change the format: Instead of having an proctor read the Reading Comprehension exam and, on request of the student, reread any part of the exam, they decide to send a CD. So now special needs students have to work the CD for themselves as well as concentrate on understanding and answering the questions correctly.  Having to play, rewind, forward and pause the CD also makes it impossible to find specific parts of the text relating to specific questions in the exam or to replay questions as needed.

An Israeli high-school student in class (illustrative photo: Moshe Shai/Flash 90)

An Israeli high-school student in class (illustrative photo: Moshe Shai/Flash 90)

You cannot prepare a student with severe learning disabilities for a Bagrut exam and then, two weeks prior to the exam, change the format. These students work harder to pass one exam than other students do to pass several. They work every day, often for several years in advance, doing exam paper after exam paper to prepare for the “big day.” They are told what to expect and how the exam will be run. So by the time they enter the exam room they are fully prepared for what will occur – there will be no surprises.

But now, these students will be suffering from a disadvantage during the exam. A student without disabilities can reread any part of the text or any question as many times as he wishes. Students with learning disabilities are now put in a position where it is almost impossible to hear any specific part of the examination again.

The Ministry of Education is setting up these students up to fail. Apart from the change of format they are throwing these students into complete turmoil. Any self-confidence that has been gained by merely studying for the exam is now shattered. Should they even take the exam? Failing would be so completely detrimental. Positive feedback is one of the most important elements in the education of special-needs kinds. For these students, passing a Bagrut examination is to be celebrated as a huge achievement.

How can the Ministry of Education help them climb to the top of this mountain and then simply let them fall off the cliff when they reach the top?

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