Yomiuri Shimbun

April 26, 2013

The latest national achievement test for sixth-grade primary and third-year middle school students aimed in part to assay students’ comprehension in areas that were cited as weak points in the past.

About 2,287,000 public school students took the exam, which tests Japanese language ability and mathematics. This was the first time the test was administered in four years.

All but 41 schools administered the test with no major problems reported. The 41 failed to give the test for reasons such as a flu outbreak that caused the closure of several schools.

The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry is responsible for grading the tests and will release the results, including the average percentage of correct answers by prefecture, around August.

The National Institute for Educational Policy Research, which designed the exam questions, said it analyzed past test results to identify students’ weak points.

Out of 153 questions, 22, or 14 percent, were created to determine whether students have improved in those areas of weakness, it said.

The institute said primary school students were not good at solving equations using addition and division.

The institute used an example of the Nadeshiko Japan soccer team in the test to have students calculate points and rankings of four teams.

The mathematics portion of the exam included many additional real-life scenarios, such as calculating the time difference between Tokyo and Cairo.

“[The test] is designed to assess students’ everyday knowledge and skills in the same way as the Program for International Student Assessment [PISA],” said Teikyo University Prof. Shizumi Shimizu.

A question in the Japanese portion of the test for primary students used as an example a pledge for fair play made for the 2012 National High School Baseball Invitational Tournament.

The pledge was made by the team captain at Ishinomaki Technical High School in Ishinomaki, Miyagi Prefecture, which had to overcome difficulties from the Great East Japan Earthquake. He said, “Let’s play to move people and make them smile, and display courage.”

A test question asked what kind of effect this expression hoped to elicit. The question was designed to test students’ ability to understand a speaker’s way of expressing himself. This has been a weak point for many students in the past.

In the version of the test for middle school students, some questions were based on articles from newspapers.

“The achievement test was designed to evaluate whether students have acquired the capacity for language that is needed in daily life,” said Tokyo Kasei University Prof. Kazutaka Okoshi.

Meanwhile, a survey on students’ lives at school and home asked for the first time whether they are in the habit of reading the newspaper. It also asked whether they want to study abroad in the future.