Current concerns (19) Errors in entrance exam marking / School authorities jostle for better rankings in this year’s national achievement tests

Prefectures gear up for achievement tests

National achievement tests for sixth grade students at primary schools and third year students at middle schools are scheduled to take place across the country Tuesday, prompting a flurry of activity among prefectures hoping to boost their scores.

Some municipalities, worried about low academic standards among children in their areas, are eager to give their images a lift through innovations such as using game consoles as learning tools.

At least one municipality, meanwhile, plans to install air conditioners in classrooms so students can study in comfort.

“We have to raise scores any way we can,” said Vice Principal Hideo Kageyama of Kyoto’s Ritsumeikan Primary School at a school in Osaka Prefecture. Kageyama, 51, was invited by Osaka Gov. Toru Hashimoto to serve as a member of the Osaka Prefectural Board of Education to advise on efforts to help Osaka raise academic achievement.

Osaka Prefecture was ranked among the worst performers for two consecutive years in both primary and middle school achievement.

Kazuhiro Fujihara, a former principal at Tokyo’s Wada Middle School in Suginami Ward, also was invited to be one of the education board’s special advisers. Fujihara, 53, is known for having introduced after-school tutoring sessions at Wada Middle School that were known as the “night special.”

It also was Fujihara’s idea to use Nintendo DS portable game consoles to teach Japanese and mathematics in a bid to make studying more interesting for students. The education board distributed a total of 800 Nintendo devices to 20 schools in the prefecture at a cost of 22 million yen.

In addition, the education board also started to hold after-school lessons run by cram school teachers as part of efforts to boost scores.

Meanwhile, Yawata municipal government in Kyoto Prefecture announced in February it was dropping its eco-friendly school building renovation plan, for which it had received a 21 million yen subsidy from the Environment Ministry.

Instead, the municipal government plans to install air conditioners at all middle schools in the city. The municipal education board said it believed a more comfortable learning environment in the summer months would help boost scores that lag behind the national average.

The municipal government plans to return the subsidy and spend more than 200 million yen on installing air conditioners at all of its local middle schools. “Academic ability is more important than ecology–it’s the only way we can do it,” one municipal education board member said.

According to a questionnaire conducted in connection with last year’s achievement tests, students in Kochi Prefecture were twice as likely as the national average not to do their homework. Concerned at the impact this might be having on test scores, the Kochi municipal government this month selected about 90 “homework supporters” in 19 middle schools in the city. The supporters are generally retired teachers who are on hand to help students with their homework in classrooms after school.

The Yamaguchi prefectural government, meanwhile, called for cooperation from teachers in the prefecture in October in compiling likely questions for the national achievement tests. The number of questions sent over the Internet had reached 400 as of March, with teachers getting their students to answer the questions in class.

The prefectural education board hopes the move will bear fruit as early as in this year’s tests.

However, Akita Prefecture, which has been ranked among the best performing prefectures for both primary and middle schools, said it had not been doing anything unusual to achieve its high scores. It received 64 visiting groups from around the country last year to study why it has performed so well.

“We haven’t done anything special,” said a prefectural education board member. “What we’ve been doing is teaching in small groups and conducting our own achievement tests.”

Poorly performing prefectures also sent study delegations to Yamagata, Fukui and Toyama prefectures, all of which are regularly listed among the best performers.

This year, a total of about 2.35 million primary and middle school students are expected to take the annual achievement tests in Japanese language and arithmetic/mathematics. The tests are conducted by the Education, Science and Technology Ministry in April and were introduced in 2007.

(Apr. 21, 2009)
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Entrance exam marking errors affect 1,447 in Hyogo Pref.

KOBE–High school entrance examination papers were marked incorrectly by more than 120 public high schools in Hyogo Prefecture, affecting 1,447 students, the Hyogo Prefectural Board of Education announced Monday.

The board will set up a committee comprising parents of students, teachers and experts to prevent a recurrence of such marking errors. The committee will review the entrance examination marking system.

The board will also review the entrance examination papers of 130,000 applicants from previous years, reaching as far back as fiscal 2004, to check for marking errors.

The Education, Science and Technology Ministry will ask the board to submit a detailed report on the matter.

The marking errors were discovered after an applicant who took the entrance examination for a prefectural high school asked the school on April 8 to disclose the answers to the test.

The board of education then asked 145 public high schools, excluding 11 schools that did not conduct a written test, to review the papers of 24,880 applicants for marking errors. It was found that errors had been made in 122 schools.

Among the 1,447 students affected, 1,325 passed the examination and 122 failed. Marking errors were found to have occurred in all five of the subjects tested in the examination.

(Apr. 21, 2009)
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