Anti-Israel campaigns, and the student response to them, often have been assumed to stem from a lack of knowledge about Israel and the Middle East. For that reason, many pro-Israel programs have focused on educational approaches. Despite these efforts, there has been little, if any, empirical research that documents what Americans know about Israel, the Middle East, or Israeli/Palestinian issues or assesses how prepared Jewish students are to encounter anti-Zionism and anti-Israel sentiment on campus.
The Israel Literacy Measurement Project is an attempt to create a valid and reliable measure of knowledge of Israel. Beginning with the question, “what does it mean to be literate about Israel?” the team worked to establish assessment standards. Drawing on definitions of literacy in other social science disciplines and in consultation with subject experts, the research team developed a test bank of validated Israel-related questions. The question bank can be used with college-aged young adults to assess the extent and content of their Israel-related knowledge.
Using the question bank has a number of benefits for assessing knowledge of Israel. The creation of the question bank was based on both a top-down and a bottom-up approach. Soliciting suggestions of concepts from experts in the field of Israel studies represented a top-down method. Extensive interviews with students represented a bottom-up method, allowing researchers to assess what students could be expected to know about Israel. Each question has been individually validated and shown to be associated with greater overall literacy about Israel. In addition, post-test interviews demonstrated that higher test scores are associated with greater ability to think critically about Israel.
Testing the questions also provided information about the current state of Israel literacy among Jewish students on campus. Few scored well on the tests overall and, those who did, had large gaps in their knowledge.
The question bank is the start of an educational process. The hope is that this leads to future projects focusing on how students use, interpret, and analyze the information they learn. In the meantime, the question bank will be available to researchers and educators to measure the development of content knowledge about Israel.
You can read “The Israel Literacy Measurement Project: 2015 Report” here.