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2008年12月29日 (月)



--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 27(IHT/Asahi: December 29,2008)

EDITORIAL: Testing academic ability


In defiance of education ministry policy, Akita Governor Sukeshiro Terata publicly disclosed average scores by students of each city, town and village within the prefecture in controversial achievement tests taken nationwide. His decision came against growing confusion over whether to reveal the results of the annual tests for sixth-graders at elementary schools and the third-year students at junior high schools, which resumed in 2007.



It is the policy of the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology for prefectures to refrain from releasing a list of the test results for each municipality. It fears that doing so could create an unfair hierarchy in which municipalities are ranked on the basis of the scores. That, it says, could trigger excessive competition among schools and regions. The ministry says it should be up to municipalities to determine whether to release the data, and when doing so, they should announce not just the test results but also steps that may be needed to address the outcome.


In going against the ministry's policy, Terata said, "Basically, all information on public education should be disclosed, except for that regarding personal privacy." He also argued that "valuable information is being monopolized by just a handful of people involved in education."


Terata had repeatedly said in news conferences and on other occasions that he would release the data. However, it seems the actual announcement of the data caught everyone by surprise, not just municipal education boards but even the head of the prefectural board of education.


Terata also ignored the intentions of municipalities, which had all planned to withhold the test results. The situation in Akita Prefecture is different from that in Osaka Prefecture, where Governor Toru Hashimoto urges municipal education boards to voluntarily disclose their data.


We believe that Terata went too far. It is no wonder that more than half of the cities, towns and villages in Akita Prefecture said in reply to an Asahi Shimbun survey that they would reconsider whether to participate in the national achievement test next year.


However, we do understand why the governor decided to publicly disclose the test data. It is also natural from a viewpoint of information disclosure. Other local governments may well follow suit. What we find contemptible is the education ministry's dithering in trying to deal with the situation.



For its part, the ministry says it tried to ensure that reinstating the national achievement tests after a 40-year hiatus would not set off a new round of excessive competition and hierarchy among schools and districts. This was why the ministry discouraged prefectural governments from releasing the results of individual municipalities.


Apparently, the ministry had not expected a case like Akita to arise. Yet, the ministry could have expected that the data would have to be released if ever an official request was made for disclosure of the information. It hardly makes any sense for the ministry to prohibit prefectural governments from disclosing the data for each municipality when the ministry itself has made public the results for each prefecture.


There was a flaw in the original design. It is too late for education minister Ryu Shionoya to bemoan the mess, which is what he did in a recent Asahi Shimbun interview.


At this point, we feel that the education ministry should review whether it is worth continuing with the achievement tests at the cost of causing so much confusion.


The ministry began the tests as a means to grasp the nationwide state of students' scholastic prowess as a way to improve instruction methods. Because the ministry dictated that every single child should participate, it costs more than 5 billion yen each year to hold the tests.


Similar data could have been gleaned just as well by sampling surveys.


Just think how much could be done to enhance teaching staff and school facilities with the amount of money spent for the nationwide tests.



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