Background: This study investigates how the criterion-referenced (CR) approach has impacted relationships between goals, classroom practices, and student achievement in English education in Japan from 1994 to the present, a period covering three government-mandated administrations of a national curriculum (Course of Study). No study has investigated such relationships longitudinally as evidence of accountability of these curriculum policies, and this is a first step. Methods: Study 1 compares their alignment from two periods (1994–2002 and 2003–2013) based on the legally-binding goals set by the Government, nation-wide CR tests based on these goals, and English teachers’ answers to a questionnaire investigating their classroom practices. Study 2 explores how current goals relate to the results of a new set of CR tests and a new survey of classroom practices. The study contributes to the field in two significant ways. Results: Using Roger’s (Rogers, 2003) Diffusion of Innovation Theory made it possible to analyze the implementing processes for new educational policies as multi-faceted and susceptible to influences from stakeholders’ societal value systems. Conclusions: Results of tests and surveys collected from large samples truly reflect the targeted populations and provide empirical evidence supporting the widely-recognized narrative that high-stakes university entrance examinations strongly affect Japanese EFL education.
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