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Editorial: Japan should clarify use of private English tests for univ. entrance exam

High school teachers and others involved in the guidance of university applicants are increasingly concerned about the introduction of private English proficiency and certification tests as part of the country's standardized university entrance exam next academic year.

As of Aug. 22, examinations administered by six organizations will be introduced as part of the entrance test organized by the National Center for University Entrance Examinations (NCUEE). But many of the six groups have not announced the details of their tests, such as the schedules and venues. Therefore, many applicants are unsure of whether they can take examinations of their choice at locations and the timing they desire.

In an unprecedented move, the National Association of Upper Secondary School Principals, representing high school principals across the country, has submitted a petition to the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry calling for measures to relieve concerns about the situation among university entrance exam applicants and educators. One of the educators said schools are "confused to the level we can't foresee the future."

One cannot help but wonder what caused such confusion.

Applicants for universities that participate in the examination administered by the NCUEE are supposed to take one of these English proficiency and certification examinations up to twice between April and December 2020.

It is only natural that applicants want to work out plans to prepare for entrance examinations. No wonder they are at a loss what to do because it has not been determined when and where these examinations will be held.

Amid such confusion, the Japanese operator of the Test of English for International Communication (TOEIC) abruptly announced in July that it would not provide its test as part of the standardized entrance examination. As to the reason for its decision, the organization explained that "it became evident that ... the process of accepting test applications, holding the tests and providing results would be far more complex than we had expected" and "we've reached the conclusion that it is difficult to respond in a responsible manner."

This is largely because negotiations between the NCUEE and the operators of the proficiency and certification examinations toward the conclusion of an agreement over the details of the tests had remained deadlocked, contributing to increased concerns among educators.

Teachers and others involved in the guidance of university entrance exam takers have pointed out various potential problems involving the use of these private-sector tests as part of the entrance exam.

Some kinds of the English proficiency and certification examinations are held mostly in urban areas, which could be disadvantageous to applicants living in rural areas. The tests vary in terms of the tendency of questions and targets -- ranging from junior high and high school students to those who wish to study overseas. Questions remain as to whether the results of these different examinations can be evaluated in a fair manner.

Some universities have decided not to use the results of these proficiency and certification examinations in their admission decisions because of such concerns.

Finally, the NCUEE and the operators of these exams are set to sign an agreement within this month, but some educators have urged that the tests not be introduced until concerns have been dispelled.

In response to these concerns, the education ministry should take effective measures to resolve the confusion.

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