Photo/IllutrationOsaka Mayor Hirofumi Yoshimura (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Six months ago, Osaka Mayor Hirofumi Yoshimura proposed a new system to stimulate competition among public elementary and junior high schools over the academic achievements of students.

The proposal called for using test scores for the evaluations of the job performance of teachers and the allocation of budgets to schools.

The Osaka municipal board of education recently unveiled a draft plan to carry out Yoshimura’s idea.

The blueprint is less radical than the original proposal, the education board claims, pointing out that it would subject only school principals to the performance evaluations directly based on test scores and pay attention also to factors other than academic ability.

But the draft plan is still based on the basic principles put forward by the mayor.

Since it fails to ease the legitimate concerns about the evils of excessive competition over academic performance, we urge afresh the Osaka municipal government to scrap the plan.

Under the new system, to be introduced in April on a trial basis, academic achievement tests on basic subjects developed and conducted by the Osaka municipal and prefectural governments will be used to measure the academic abilities of third-grade through third-year junior high school students.

Each school will set its own target scores that need to be higher than the lowest acceptable scores set by the education board. The test results relative to the goals will be used as one factor to evaluate the performances of school principals and determine bonus payments and salary increases from the following year.

The performances of teachers will be evaluated by the heads of their schools by using the test results provided by the municipal education board.

Teachers who have made an outstanding contribution to improvement in test scores may be commended.

A special annual budget of 160 million yen ($1.4 million) will be allocated among about 420 municipal elementary and junior high schools in a way that reflects the test results, starting in fiscal 2020.

Initially, the local government planned to use the results of the national achievement tests for the purpose.

Yoshimura’s proposal came in response to poor showings in the tests by Osaka students in recent years. Osaka ranked at the bottom of all 20 government-designated large cities for the second year in a row on the national achievement tests conducted by the education ministry.

But the education ministry demurred, saying it would be inconsistent with the objectives of the tests. Critics also argued that the results of the national tests, which only sixth-graders and third-year junior high school students take, cannot be a fair criterion of the job performance of teachers. These criticisms have prompted the local government’s decision to use its own tests.

Tests covering students in many grades will certainly make it easier to measure the performance of teachers. But this approach could amplify the evils of competition.

Since the education board will evaluate the performance of principals, who in turn evaluate the performance of teachers, the new system will affect entire schools.

When faced with strong pressure to improve the test scores of their classes, teachers could be tempted to commit such irregularities as forcing underachieving students to miss the tests or excluding their scores in calculating the averages. There are legitimate concerns about such violations of rules since they actually previously occurred.

The academic performance of students is also affected by various factors other than the performance of their teachers at school. They include whether they attend preparatory schools and their family and economic situations.

There are also many cases where problems such as school bullying and absenteeism are behind the poor performance of specific students.

The efforts by local governments and schools to boost the academic achievements of students should first focus on paying careful attention to signs of trouble coming from students and establishing an environment that makes them feel secure and comfortable in attending school. Then, it is important to use tests and other means to help students overcome their weaknesses and further improve their performance in subjects in which they are proficient.

Before trying to promote competition among schools, the local government should ponder whether it has made sufficient efforts in line with these basics of education.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 7