Tokyo High School English Test Essay Raises Eyebrows

A private-sector English-speaking test will be introduced to the Tokyo Metropolitan High School Entrance Examination for the first time in Japan this month, but the initiative to develop “speaking skills” is running into a backlash. strong opposition from some parents and education experts who question its fairness.

The test will be set up for the entrance examination on November 27, targeting nearly 80,000 third-year middle school students in the capital who wish to attend metropolitan high schools from next April. The scores for the speaking tests will be added to the overall scores for the entrance exams, which will be held next February.

Some parents and experts are calling for the test to be canceled due to the need for more transparency on who will be scoring it and the point deduction standard.

Meanwhile, some junior high school classes in Tokyo have started preparing for the speaking test. In mid-October, third-grade students from Konan Junior High School participated in improvisational skits in English.

Students take a mock exam to test their English skills in November 2020 in Tokyo ahead of the subject’s incorporation into the metropolitan high school entrance exam. (Photo courtesy of Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education)(Kyodo)

“I tried to create an environment where speaking English is normal,” said Hiromi Maeda, 48, the college’s principal.

According to the Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education, the test was jointly created by the school board and education service provider Benesse Corp. Scoring will be done by local staff from a Benesse affiliate in the Philippines.

According to the board, the approximately 76,000 students who applied to take the tests represent about 95 percent of third-year junior high students in Tokyo.

Students taking the test will don headsets with microphones and record verbal responses to eight questions displayed on tablets. They will also wear earmuffs to protect against noise.

Students will be graded on a six-point scale for grammar and pronunciation, among other aspects of speaking ability, with “A” being the highest and “F” the lowest.

An “A” is worth 20 points, while an “F” would add zero to the total score for next year’s entrance exams, which include an achievement test with a possible total score of 700 and a report card with a maximum of 300 points.

For those who miss the speaking test due to illness or other reasons, scores are calculated by averaging the speaking test scores of students with the same level as the English score of the absentee at the performance test.

Worried about fairness, parents and education experts against the speaking test have launched a petition to urge the metropolitan government to halt its implementation, garnering more than 23,000 signatures as of November 11. A request for an audit has also been submitted to the local government authority.

“Who is going to mark the answers of some 80,000 students? The markers are probably not aware of the marking criteria, and I think it would be difficult to mark it fairly,” said a 52-year-old high school mother. student in the Bunkyo district of Tokyo.

Because levels of English instruction in middle schools in Tokyo vary widely, “students who have prepared well in cram schools will be at an advantage,” said another 53-year-old parent.

Some also call the treatment of students who skip the test due to illness or other reasons unreasonable. They say students may think it better not to prepare and receive a “virtual” score by skipping the exam.

The opposition to the English-speaking test recalls when the government postponed the planned introduction of English proficiency tests in the private sector as part of Japan’s standardized university entrance exams launched in the 2020 financial year.

At this time, critics said the use of private sector testing would discriminate against students living in remote areas and questioned the lack of supports for disadvantaged households.

The Iwate Prefectural Government previously introduced an English conversation test on entrance examinations for prefectural-run high schools in fiscal year 2004. However, it was canceled after three years due to long wait times. waiting for students taking the tests.

The Fukui Prefectural Government also experimentally tested students using the Benesse English exams in fiscal 2018 and 2019, but decided to wait to officially adopt them due to issues such as the considerable time required for to note.

Rebutting the opposition, the Tokyo board of education said it had “regularly” prepared for the tests by holding three mock exams.

Regarding grading, an education board official said fairness would be ensured because “several people will mark the exams, and if the grading differs, an older person will make adjustments.”

Misato Usukura, an associate professor at Tokyo Gakugei University who specializes in English language teaching, said that to improve students’ English skills, teachers must first undergo training to improve the way the language is taught in schools.

If Anglophone tests are to be incorporated into high school entrance exams, “they should allay concerns by making scoring open, for example by publishing the sample answers for each assessment,” she said.

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