English language testing of very young children: The case of Japan

Ruriko Otomo, Wang Danping
2016 Cogent Education  
Taking commercial English language tests is becoming common practice among young English learners in Japan. With a specific focus on the Jidō Eiken test, this study examines English language test-taking activity by analyzing textual data retrieved from three data sources. Jidō Eiken is found to represent a complex phenomenon involving many stakeholders, including very young learners of English who have not fully acquired their first language and adults who often initiate the testtaking. This
more » ... testtaking. This test-taking phenomenon is embedded in a "testing culture" in which individuals' ascribed social worth is based on test results, resulting in severe competition. In light of such findings, I discuss how Jidō Eiken might be used in the near future, and draw attention to the negative and unintended consequences of the potential scenarios with respect to English language education and language policy in Japan and other contexts in the Asia-Pacific region. of fee-based English language tests have been developed internationally for young learners, such as Cambridge English: Young Learners and the Pearson Test of English Young Learners. These commercially available tests are increasingly taken by young children in East Asia, typically outside of the school system. While the presence of these English language tests indicates the growing popularity of test-taking among young English learners, they raise a number of concerns, such as the reliability of standardized tests as a way of assessing the typically uneven and idiosyncratic language development of young children, and the potential negative backwash effects that these tests might bring. Motivated by such concerns, this study investigates the foundations of young learners' test-taking activity, with the aim of identifying the rationale for taking the tests and attitudes toward them among test-takers, parents, and other important stakeholders. I focus on Jidō Eiken, a standardized English language test developed for young learners in Japan, where there is a distinct lack of research on this important social phenomenon. I begin by delineating the background of this study in terms of (1) English-in-education policy in primary schools, (2) the presence of standardized English language tests in and outside of primary schools, (3) testing culture, and (4) academic debates on the use of standardized language tests for young learners. The second and third sections provide the details of Jidō Eiken and the methodology of the study, respectively. In the results section, I illustrate people's motivations and perceptions regarding Jidō Eiken and the close-knit relationship between Jidō Eiken and the testing culture in Japan. In the following section, I depict two potential uses of Jidō Eiken and its consequences in relation to education, followed by the conclusions and implications for language-in-education policy. teachers because the test results can affect schools' reputations and rankings, as is the case in Hong Kong (Qian, 2008) . In sum, the phenomenon of an increasing number of young children taking English language tests raises more general questions about the testing culture in East Asia.
doi:10.1080/2331186x.2016.1209802 fatcat:7jeqmi5o5jakvccgk2iyqhm2xy