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Girls still need higher entrance exam scores than boys at 80% of Tokyo high schools

Data showing that female applicants still needed a minimum entrance exam score 243 points higher than male applicants after measures were implemented to narrow the discrepancy at a Tokyo high school is seen in this photo of internal Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education documents. (Mainichi/Yuki Miyatake)

TOKYO -- Some 80% of Tokyo metropolitan high schools have in recent years continued to require higher admission exam scores for girls than boys, despite metro government attempts to fix the discrepancies, the Mainichi Shimbun has learned.

    The Tokyo Metropolitan Board of Education has applied corrective measures to 30 to 40 schools a year, but still admissions tests from academic 2015 to 2020 for about 80% of schools had higher passing requirements for girls, internal education board documents show. In one case, an entrance exam with the perfect score set at 1,000 had a passing-grade discrepancy 243 points higher for girls, and in another 20 girls failed despite scoring higher than the lowest-scoring successful male applicant.

    According to the Mainichi Shimbun's research, high schools under Tokyo Metropolitan Government jurisdiction are the only prefectural schools to have separate enrollment caps for male and female students. The numbers at each high school are based on the ratio of boys to girls at public junior high schools in Tokyo.

    Whether a student passes or fails is dependent on a combination of two assessments; a report from their junior high school marked out of 300 points, and a written test covering Japanese, math, English, science and social studies and scored out of 700. But the passing grade for boys and girls is different.

    Starting with the 1998 entrance tests, the Tokyo education board has taken corrective action at high schools with a tendency for particularly high passing line discrepancies. The corrective allows 90% of the high school's annual intake to be based on separate passing scores depending on sex, while the remaining 10% is decided regardless of sex. The system has been in use at between 30 and 40 of the capital's 110 regular high schools in recent years.

    To ensure its efficacy, the education board reviews changes to the passing threshold each year. When the Mainichi requested information including the results of those reviews, in March 2021 the board provided responses from 199 schools subject to entrance exam corrective measures between 2015 and 2020. Information that could be traced to specific schools was not provided. The Mainichi analyzed 184 of the responses, excluding those that had gone unanswered or clearly appeared to be mistaken.

    Before the correction measures, 170 of responding schools -- about 90% -- had different lowest passing scores for boys and girls. In 27 schools' cases, the girls' threshold was 100 points or more higher, 50-99 points higher at 41 schools, 40-49 points higher at 31 schools, 30-39 points higher at 27 schools, 20-29 points higher at 26 schools, 10-19 points higher at eight schools, and nine points or lower at 10 schools.

    The largest discrepancy between boys to girls was 426 points. In the remaining 10%, boys and girls had almost the same passing scores, or the threshold for boys was higher.

    After corrective measures, 153 schools, some 80%, still had higher pass requirements for girls. Generally, the discrepancy had shrunk, with a difference of 100 points or more at just five schools registered, 50-99-point differences at 14 schools, a 40-49-point discrepancy at five schools, 30-39-point differences at 13 schools, 20-29 points at 34 schools, 10-19 points at 36 schools, and a discrepancy of nine points or less at 46 schools. The largest difference was still a huge 243 points, suggesting the measures had not led to a correction in some cases.

    The Mainichi also asked for the release of the lowest passing marks for girls and boys for high schools that haven't enacted corrective measures, but the metropolitan education board declined for reasons including, "It could lead to people ranking schools, and engender competition."

    Regarding the present differences in required pass marks for boys and girls, an education board official stated, "It is made known that admissions are separate for boys and girls, so it's very likely that exam takers understand the differences in passing scores." But they added, "We do acknowledge that the corrective measures program is not perfect. We want to think of ways to improve it that match conditions in society today."

    The Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology commented, "In general terms, it is not ideal to have people receive different treatment due to their sex for illogical reasons." But it remained neutral, saying, "We believe that the metropolitan government sees the separate allocations for boys and girls to be logical."

    (Japanese original by Akira Okubo, Tokyo City News Department)

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