Use achievement test results to improve school instruction
The Yomiuri Shimbun

The Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry has released the results of the national achievement test it conducted in April. The test, given to sixth-year primary school students and third-year middle school students, was different from previous ones in that science was added to the existing test subjects of Japanese and math.

Both primary and middle schools should use the test results to determine what needs to be tackled and improve instruction methods.

Common findings in all the tested subjects were that students did poorly on questions requiring them to read materials and then write what they thought of them and on questions asking them to write logical reasons for their answers.

This trait among students was seen in the previous national achievement tests and Program for International Student Assessment, an international academic achievement test conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The education ministry has been asking schools–through the revised curriculum guidelines and other means–to nurture students’ thinking and expressive abilities, but the test results showed that their efforts have been largely fruitless. It is necessary to conduct extensive analysis on why students are not doing better in this regard.


Shying away from science

Results of a questionnaire conducted in tandem with the test shed light on the reality of students shying away from science–a problem that has often been pointed out before.

According to the questionnaire, students who think “studying science will be useful in the future” accounted for 70 percent of sixth-year primary school students but only 50 percent of third-year middle school students. Less than 30 percent of both primary and middle school students responded that they “want to find jobs related to science and technology.”

The results are worrisome for Japan in developing human resources as it aims to remain a nation that thrives on scientific and technological advances. We cannot help but ponder if school instruction lacks the ingenuity to convey how fun science is and awaken interest in science among students.

Primary school teachers–a high ratio of whom are graduates of their universities’ education departments–are said to lack a strong appetite for science because of their background in the liberal arts.


Don’t slash support staff

Under a project that began in the 2007 academic year, the education ministry has dispatched graduate students and retired teachers as “science support staff” to primary schools to help them with science experiments.

But the project was marked to be scrapped during budget screening conducted by the Democratic Party of Japan-led government. Despite a high demand for such staff at school, the project will be abolished after the current school year ends. We believe the government should reconsider this.

When the national achievement test started in 2007, all students in the targeted grades participated, but the DPJ-led government changed the format to one sampling about 30 percent of the students in the name of cutting costs. But the format change was apparently made in consideration of teachers’ unions–among the DPJ’s support groups–which criticized the test as “fanning competition.”

The method of sampling only a limited number of schools produces only average scores for each prefecture, which does not allow analysis of scores for an individual municipality or school.

Such a system does not yield data, for example, to use as a basis for deploying additional teachers to support the areas struck by the Great East Japan Earthquake.

The education ministry plans to conduct a test of all students once every several years, starting in the next academic year. But it should not take such a half-measure: Make all students in the target grades participate every year.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Aug. 10, 2012)