Michael Stout's article on entrance exams in Japan was very well researched and written. Entrance exams as a source of positive washback in present conditions is unthinkable. I had never thought that they would also not be a source of negative feedback, but his arguments are convincing.
I have argued before in blog posts that the Center Exam is a logistical achievement that other countries could only dream of carrying off. As a test of student ability, however, it is directionless and inadequate. It is simply a test, and the National Center for University Entrance Exams does not clearly state what it is a test of, a prediction of ability to be successful at university, achievement in high school studies? As an exam its administration lacks transparency, and though it cannot be said to fail to deliver on its promises, it makes none.
I also believe that the Center Exam is a testing ground for Sony (this year) and Toshiba (last year), because they get to test market tens of thousands of listening and memory devices for the English listening test in market conditions that no other electronics maker can duplicate. If super high reliablity in super highly controlled conditions in a super high stakes environment with free human subjects testing machines that they have purchased is replicable anywhere else, I'd be surprised.
As older teachers leave the field of teaching, younger teachers will indeed take their places, but the Education Ministry will still be controlling the curriculum and textbooks for primary and secondary education. Innovation from other forms of education will be minimal because of the ministry's rigid regulations on what can be called education.
My prediction is that demographics and economics will drastically change admissions to and education at universities, but primary and secondary education will remain unchanged, and expectations that entrance exams can in some way influence that are bound to be dissappointed. I agree with you that scapegoating them as the reason that children don't learn English is meaningless, and will become increasingly so in the future.
First, we have to face the possibility that instead of creating a curriculum where a majority of young people can acquire a second language, the Education Ministry purposefully makes a system that will discriminate against all but the elite, those who can afford the best schools and especially jukus. The Ministry has it in its own best interests to create administrators, komuin, that will replicate their originators. This argument may be met with claims of a conspiracy theory, but imagining that the ministry wants to actually educate "英語が出来る日本人” is also belief in a conspiracy, so far a failed one for the most part.
On a more personal level, our entrance screening includes in-house exams, interviews, and Center Exam entrance. Our school will have more applicants that seats this year, and as a nursing school, it is important for us to be cautious in our acceptance of students. Our reputation will be made or broken by our students' success on the national nursing boards that the students take in their last year for their nursing license. We most definitely want students who will continue to study and be successful on those exams, as most schools have pass rates in the upper 90% rank and 100% success rates are not that uncommon. Our entrance process is more difficult recently, because the Labor Ministry is pressuring us to admit more men, but they make poor quality students, jeopardizing our nursing board success rates.