Learning standards in a non-standard system: mapping student knowledge and comprehension in ultra-orthodox Talmud Torah schools
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The Jewish ultra-orthodox (Haredi) Talmud Torah schools have been consistently resistant to the process of standardization in content, measurement, and evaluation, in contrast to the Israeli state education system which has progressed steadily in these areas. Talmud Torah schools are private elementary schools for ultra-orthodox boys. Studies are religious and the main subject of study is the Gemara (Talmud). For religious and ideological reasons these schools insist on total independence at all levels and resist assessment or regulation of any kind and as a result have rarely been studied by Israeli or international researchers. The present study examined the contribution of a unique Gemara study program to a sample of 159 sixth grade boys in Talmud Torah schools. Students completed questionnaires to evaluate general ability and language skills, Aramaic vocabulary skills, and knowledge of Gemara. After the intervention, the test results of the experimental group were found to be superior to those of the control group. The findings also provide first insights into the performance of ultra-orthodox students on verbal and general ability measures compared to the general Israeli school population. Thus, this study provides the first standardized measurement and evaluation of learning and literacy in the previously inaccessible Haredi student population.
KeywordsJewish ultra-orthodox Gemara study Reading comprehension
This paper is based on a graduate research project conducted by Ariel Sherlow at the School of Education, Bar-Ilan University and supervised by the authors.
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