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The Journal of Aesthetic Education 37.4 (2003) 50-58

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Evolution in Qualitative Factors Used to Evaluate Japanese Students



Two basic viewpoints are typically taken in the evaluation of achievement in Japanese schools: either the focus is primarily on "field-content-basedevaluation" or on "ability-concept-based evaluation." I have compared the qualitative factors encompassed by these two viewpoints as reflected in the permanent school records of Japanese students. These recordsinclude classes taken, grades earned, and school-related information. Kanten (in Japanese) has become a key word in the evaluation of academic achievement in Japan. It represents the qualitative factors that should be considered when evaluating a student's learning achievements. In this essay, I review how these qualitative factors have evolved, both for general subjects and for fine arts.

From the beginning of the educational system (1872) to 1938, the "assessment" [Hyoutei] of a student depended on the comprehensiveness of the student's achievement in each subject. (Overall assessments are now usually made using a three-point scale; 1-3, a five-point scale; 1-5, or an ABC scale.) However, it was not clearly specified how scholastic ability and learning accomplishment should be assessed or which qualitative factors should be considered.

Starting in 1941, teachers were required to evaluate, comprehensively assess, and record the student's learning, consideration, dealing, application, skill, appreciation, practice, and learning attitude through his or her daily learning and activity. 1 The factors seem to be basically equivalent to those recently used as "interest/aspiration/attitude," "thinking," "judgment," [End Page 50] and "expressive power." After 1941, the point of view in the area of fine arts gradually changed from focusing on the "field-content-based factor" to the "ability-concept-based factor" in both the educational content and in evaluation.

This report focuses on the evolution in the qualitative factors used in evaluations in the postwar era.

From 1949 to 1991

"Understanding," "attitude," and "skill" were specified as factors that shouldbe considered when evaluating a student's learning achievements in 1949. For a few years, these factors were considered independently in the non-referenced evaluation of five-point ratings. The two basic viewpoints, "field-content-based factor" and "ability-concept-based factor," coexisted in the course of study in the early 1950s, according to a tentative plan published in 1951. "Attitude" and "habits" carried the same weight as "understanding" and "skill." These factors received minimal attention at the elementary school level. Evaluations thus evolved from simply an overall assessment of the student's achievement in a subject to an assessment of these specific factors. For instance, at the elementary school level, drawing and handicrafts both had factors related to "field content difference" (for example, drawing, color, and pattern) and to "ability concept difference" (for example, attitude and habit). At the junior high level, the factors were represented by a double-layer structure (Table 1). The elements underlined in Table 1 reflect on the "ability concept difference" (for example, expression activities and understanding activities) instead on the "field content difference."

Following the revision of the permanent cumulative records in 1955, students were evaluated based only on an overall assessment of their individual [End Page 51] performance in each subject (Japanese language, mathematics, social studies, music, and drawing and handicrafts). There were three main reasons for this change.

  • The effort it takes to evaluate each factor analytically.
  • The difficulty of evaluating "attitude."
  • The demand by schools at the next level for a comprehensive and uniform evaluation for each student for each subject. 3

Furthermore, although "interest" was added as one of factors to be considered in the evaluation, it was not to be dealt with analytically in the evaluation of what the student learned. Consequently, evaluations became clearer and more comprehensive, although the weights of the factors, referred to as the "affective domain," took a step backward. In 1961, the factor "interest/attitude toward fine arts" was added. At the same time, "interest" was given more weight. However, the higher weighting of the factor was short-lived because intangible factors such as...


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