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Calculators rejected for some tests

Diane Spencer reports on the official evaluation of this year's national curriculum tests.

Eleven-year-olds did not always use calculators effectively in last summer's national curriculum maths test, and were often unsure about when their use was allowed, says a government report published this week. As a result, the 1996 test will include a non-calculator paper.

In addition, key stage 2 teachers were worried about time pressure in maths, so the limit will be increased from 35 to 45 minutes next year.

At key stage 3, training for English markers will be improved, supervision tightened and work will be sampled more widely next year, says the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority in its report on English, one of five evaluation reports being sent out to schools this week. "We are re-shaping the scheme to encourage markers to give proper credit to quality answers," said David Hawker, who is in charge of testing at SCAA.

The authority says science tests for 11-year-olds will be "slightly more demanding" in 1996, as the evaluation showed that teachers did not expect so many pupils to achieve the top grade - level 5.

Despite a "few hiccups", key stage 2 tests had "gone remarkably well in their first full year", said Mr Hawker. But following concerns about security - and even accusations of cheating - procedures would be made more stringent. SCAA had found that a small number of schools had looked at the papers too soon. Teachers' notes for invigilating will be packed separately, so that next year's test packs will not need to be opened before the test date.

The marking scheme for national English tests for 14-year-olds is being improved, because of widespread dissatisfaction with results last summer.

But SCAA said the problem was not as severe as was thought. David Hawker said that 13 per cent of schools had sought re-marking, and of those about 4 per cent had their levels changed, compared with 0.2 per cent in science and 0.15 per cent in maths at key stage 3.

He said English marking was inherently judgmental and subjective, but conceded that markers had been cautious about awarding high scores, and some had been over-generous at the bottom levels.

This year, SCAA recruited some 13,000 external markers for the tests for 11 and 14-year-olds, after protests by teachers over excessive workloads. They handled more than 7.5 million scripts. More than 600,000 pupils took the tests in each of the three key stages.

The evaluation report for English key stage 1 showed an increase of 5 per cent in the proportion of children achieving level 3 for writing, which indicated a steady improvement over the four years since the start of national curriculum assessment. Boys did better than girls on information-related questions in comprehension, whereas girls scored higher on questions with stories.

In the narrative writing exercise, 11-year-olds found it difficult to structure clear story sequences, says the report, and could not develop characters well. SCAA says children should be taught a range of strategies beyond reliance on phonic cues. They also need practice in reading and discussing texts.

Reports on key stage 1 and 2, and separate ones for English, maths and science at key stage 3 are available, free, from SCAA, at Newcombe House, 45 Notting Hill Gate, London W11 3JB.

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