Education minister Hakubun Shimomura on Friday harshly criticized Shizuoka Gov. Heita Kawakatsu for disclosing the names of public elementary schools that scored above average in this year’s nationwide achievement test, saying the move goes against ministry rules.

Shimomura also said the ministry will consider “preventive measures” to avoid a repeat violation. This could include refusing to share the results of future achievement test with municipalities that break the rules.

On Thursday, Kawakatsu posted on the Shizuoka Prefectural Government’s website the names of 262 principals whose sixth-graders scored above average in Japanese, without obtaining consent from the municipal board of education. He also announced the average percentage of correct answers for elementary schools in tests given in four subjects in the prefecture’s 35 cities and towns.

The governor’s move comes amid intense nationwide debate over educational autonomy in classrooms and growing pressure for accountability in the public education system.

Later the same day, Shimomura criticized Kawakatsu on a TV program, saying the act was tantamount to “evading the law, as governors do not have the authority to decide whether to announce the results.”

According to the ministry’s guideline, Kawakatsu failed to follow the reporting policy set by the ministry, which says the decision to announce test results should be made by municipal boards of education, not governors.

It was the second consecutive time Kawakatsu had released the principals’ names.

Kawakatsu told reporters Thursday he released the results because teachers in Shizuoka had been “making great efforts over the last academic year,” and because “their ability to educate students has improved.”

Toru Abe, the Shizuoka municipal board of education chief, apologized on Kawakatsu’s behalf.

“We are sorry that the governor made such an announcement, at a time when each municipal board of education is seriously considering how to announce the results,” one Japanese media report said.

An official at the Shizuoka prefectural board of education echoed Abe’s view. The official told The Japan Times he was surprised to hear about the governor’s actions and that he regrets that the governor revealed the results “just whenthe prefectural board of education was considering whether to make an announcement according to the reporting rules.”

Last year, Kawakatsu released the names of 86 public elementary school principals whose sixth-grade students scored above average in the subject of Japanese, after his initial plan to disclose the names of principals whose students scored the worst was opposed by the prefectural board of education.

Last year, Shizuoka was last of all the 47 prefectures in correct answers on the Japanese test, according to data published by the prefecture. This year, Shizuoka placed 27th.

The test, launched in the 2007 school year, is used to gauge achievements mainly in Japanese and mathematics. In principle, all students in the sixth year of public elementary school and the third year of junior high school take the test.

The release of individual schools’ results has been banned for years out of concern it would cause excessive competition and promote rankings over quality.

However, the education ministry changed the reporting policy last academic year to allow boards to release the data, on the grounds it will prompt local authorities to reexamine their efforts and improve students’ capabilities.

Growing demands from parents for schools to be held accountable for academic performance are also seen as playing a role in the policy change.

The education ministry now allows municipal boards of education to release individual school results, but bans municipalities’ data from being made public “in a list or in a specific order,” to avoid the perception that they are promoting competition.

Also, when the municipal boards make test results public, they should include an analysis, including measures on how to improve the schools’ weak points, according to the ministry’s reporting policy. Some municipal boards have still opted not to release the results after the amendment was made in the reporting policy.

Shizuoka is not the first municipality to release the results on a school-to-school basis. In the past, the town of Nanbu, Tottori Prefecture, Takeo, Saga Prefecture and the city of Osaka announced the answers percentages for each elementary school. But Shizuoka is the first prefecture to do it on a prefectural level.

Susumu Murakoshi, President of the Japan Federation of Bar Associations, released a statement on Aug. 21, calling on the ministry to ban the announcements all together.

The announcement of such data “would lead to an emphasis on test performance and excessive competition in the classrooms and interfere with the freedom and creativity of teaching,” Murakoshi said in the statement. “This could in the end hinder the holistic development of children and infringe on their rights to receive education that corresponds to their individuality.”

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.