High school tests show rise in ability

Yomiuri Shimbun (Apr. 15, 2007)

The results of a nationwide test of third-year high school students’ academic ability, conducted in November 2005, suggest that a recent decline may have bottomed out, and things could even be improving in some subjects, the Education, Science and Technology Ministry said.

The test was the first of its kind conducted on third-year high school students who had been taught exclusively under the ministry’s curriculum guidelines advocating “pressure-free education.”

However, although results for the latest test marked a slight improvement compared with similar tests conducted under the previous guidelines in 2002 to 2003, the actual number of correct responses in mathematics and sciences fell short of what the ministry had expected for the average student.

About 150,000 third-year high school students across the nation, or about 13 percent of the third-year high school students, took the standardized tests in 12 subjects, in six broad categories–Japanese, geography/history, civics, mathematics, science and English.

Subjects covered in the tests were mostly those students were taught in their first year of high school.

When the percentage of correct responses was compared with the results for the same questions asked in the previous tests, students in the 2005 tests did better than those who took the previous ones in about 14 percent of 181 such questions, did more or less the same in about 80 percent of such questions, and did worse in about 6 percent of such questions, the ministry said.

By subject, students who took the 2005 tests did better than those taking the earlier tests in six subjects–world history, geography, politics and economics, physics, chemistry and English.

When similar tests were conducted in 2004 under the new course of study, which covered students at primary and middle schools, there also were signs of improved academic ability.

The ministry calculated a benchmark percentage for a student studying for what it considered a standard amount of time, and compared this figure with the actual test scores.

For all 12 subjects, students did better than the ministry had expected in four subjects, including Japanese and world history, but fell short of the ministry’s expectations in eight subjects, including mathematics, physics and English.

Students fared particularly badly in mathematics, falling short of ministry expectations in two-thirds of mathematics questions and about half of the questions asked in physics, chemistry, biology and earth science.

For those exam questions requiring written responses, a format of questions that Japanese students have proved relatively weak with in international comparisons, students fell short of the ministry’s expectations in eight of the 12 subjects.

In a survey of student attitudes, conducted at the same time as the academic tests, the percentage of those students who said they enjoy studying, or who said studying is important, exceeded the numbers in previous surveys.

One education expert said the apparent improvement in standards might have resulted from additional measures implemented by teachers, including supplementary lessons, who had grown alarmed at the apparent fall in standards.

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