Memo #149 (Japanese translation available here)
By Keita Takayama - ktakayam [at] une.edu.au
On this April 17, 2012, in Japan, around 30 per cent of years 6 and 9 students have undergone national standardized testing. But Japan isn’t the only country to introduce tests as part of policy efforts to improve student performance. In fact, all advanced countries use tests to assess potential workforce knowledge and skills with an eye towards raising national productivity and surviving global competition. But the exact nature of testing regimes differs per country. For example, Japan and Australia use different mechanisms to direct individual schools towards national goals.
Japan and Australia introduced their testing regimes at roughly the same time. In 2008, Australia launched the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN). It annually tests all public and private school students at years 3, 5, 7, and 9. Japan introduced its regime in 2007, testing all public school students at years 6 and 9. Since 2010, the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) shifted to sample only 30 per cent of the eligible students.
In Australia, each school’s test results are publicized against national averages and against 60 similar schools across the nation on a socio-economic scale. NAPLAN resorts to public shaming and parental choice to generate pressure among schools for academic improvements. Because Australia’s federalism and its constitution constrain the national government’s involvement in education, the government had to rely on indirect pressuring via a quasi-market scheme to direct schools towards its national goals.
In contrast, Japanese national standardized testing prohibits the public release of school-by-school scores. Only prefecture-by-prefecture average scores are published. But this limited disclosure has been enough to generate the pressure that the government intends. In Japan’s centralized, top-down administrative regime, the competitive pressure created by the league tables of prefectures is quickly channeled down to municipal boards of education and individual schools. Hence, the Japanese government has achieved the same competitive pressure among schools as generated by NAPLAN without explicitly resorting to the politically contested quasi-market solution.
But whether national standardized testing is the most effective and pedagogically appropriate means to raise academic standards remains highly contested in education research communities.
Keita Takayama – teaches sociology of education in School of Education, University of New England, Australia.
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- The Growth of National Learning Assessments in the World, 1995-2006, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, 2008.
- My School, Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority.
- How Finnish, not East Asian Education Became a Global Reference, by Keita Takayama (Memo #132)
- OECD’s PISA, media sensationalism, and education reform in Japan, by Keita Takayama (Memo #47)
- Our other Memos about education