Few – if any – persons go through the Japanese educational system without frequently encountering a concept known as hensachi – a term that could be translated as "standardized rank score". Moreover, many parents in Japan feel a keen mixture of anxiety and/or pride regarding the hensachi rankings of the schools their children attend. Though it might be hard for young folks to imagine, standard rank scores did not become widespread in Japan until the mid-1960's. Within a short span of time, this concept infiltrated many secondary and tertiary educational settings to became a de facto measure of scholastic attainment and some even maintain, personal worth. In the Japanese context, hensachi signifies far more than a statistical formula – it also represents a pervasive social myth that personal ability can be summed up through a single equation which set school admission decisions.
In this interview, we talk with a person responsible for the widespread adoption of standard rank scores in Japan. Born in 1928 in Nagano prefecture, Shozo Kuwata graduated from what's now known as Shinshu University in 1950. He worked as a school teacher in the Kanto region of Japan from 1950 to 1963. For 17 years after that he worked at a private educational research institute. This interview was conducted on March 29, 2010 near his home in Yokohama. The original Japanese version of this interview is available at http://jalt.org/test/PDF/Kuwata-j.pdf.
[ p. 2 ]Yes, though in Japan it was not widely understood. It can be said that Japan has been about 40 years behind the United States in the field of educational measurement. Educational measurement has a relatively short history in this country. In the early 20th century the psychologist Lewis Terman (1877 – 1956) did advocate the use of a statistical measure similar to the hensachi formula I recommend. Moreover, William McCall (1891-1982) offered some useful insights about how to measure scholastic attainment through t-scores. Around 1920 he was conducting research with Edward Thorndike (1874 – 1949) on cognitive assessment. I suppose that could be considered the dawn of educational measurement.
[ p. 3 ]To my knowledge, Japan is the only place where standardized rank scores are a pervasive feature. I'm tempted to say that this is due to Japan's academic meritocracy. However, there are other highly meritocratic societies such as Taiwan, China, and Korea that have not adopted standardized rank scores on a widespread scale. In those places the ranking of educational institutions appears to depend on the cumulative evaluations of multiple stakeholders such as teachers, parents, and students. I should point out that hensachi ratings in Japan are not conducted by the government, but by the major cram schools. It seems that large cram schools have had a significant impact in shaping the educational future of our youth.
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Many thanks to Melissa Tsuchiya & Michihiro Hirai for their feedback and help with this translation.
Works CitedIwahara, S. (1957). Kyouiku to Shinri no tame no suikegaku [Statistics for education and psychology]. Tokyo: Nihon Bunka Kagakusha.