Doubts over test marking grow

Record numbers of primary schools challenge their pupils' key stage 2 English results. Helen Ward reports

More than one in seven primary schools appealed against the English test results for their 11-year-olds this year - a sign of growing dissatisfaction with marking.

Schools spent more than pound;90,000 on challenging English results.

Almost 2,850 schools sent back 15,509 individual papers, the highest number ever. A further 89 asked for 4,561 papers to be checked as part of group reviews.

The number of requests for individual papers to be checked rose by 35 per cent compared with last year, though in 2003 schools returned 15,000 papers for review after changes to the test paper.

Group reviews were only introduced for key stage 2 English in 2004, when 307 schools asked for them - more than three times as many as this year.

Despite the rise in individual paper appeals, fewer levels were changed than last year.

The National Assessment Agency awarded 1,082 pupils a higher level following a review, and 81 pupils were downgraded. In 2004, correcting marking errors led to 2,441 pupils moving up a level and just 50 moving down. The cost of re-marking is capped at pound;150 per school. There were also 1,953 requests for free clerical checks, leading to 560 pupils seeing their levels improve.

Diana Cleaver, head of Great Bentley primary, Essex, sent eight papers back but no levels were changed. She said: "I've always been right before and this time I was wrong, so I was surprised.

"You need to have faith in people marking the work and I would be so much happier if my own staff marked the tests, trained staff whose judgement I trust, and their judgements were moderated, like the key stage 1 system.

One year I had a girl who got 0 marks for her short writing, which went up to 10 marks out of 12."

Just 611 schools appealed against individual science grades, and 444 sent back maths papers. Requests for clerical checks were also lower: 350 asked for the checks on science papers, and 405 requested them on maths papers.

David Fann, chair of the National Association of Head Teachers' primary committee, said: "You need to retain a certain level of classroom understanding to mark exam papers. I have been a team leader for KS2 tests and my team had very few teachers - they would be college lecturers, people who had retired, people at university."

English and maths scores rose this year, with 79 per cent and 75 per cent of pupils reaching the expected level 4.

Pupils taking the KS2 writing test were asked to write a short piece about their favourite meal, and a longer play script about a boy who argues with his parents about why he should be allowed to stay up and watch television.

The reading test included the diary of a female truck driver and a story about cowboys.

A spokesman for the NAA said: "The changes after reviews of marking errors as a proportion of the cohort shows that only 0.117 per cent of pupils had a change of level in 2005 compared to 0.39 per cent in 2004 and 0.59 per cent in 2003. Current evidence certainly does not support the conclusion that marking quality is declining."

* A total of 4,511 pupils, or 1 per cent of the year group, had their key stage 3 English levels changed after their schools appealed last year. In 2004, when the tests were hit by marking and administrative problems, 23,021 pupils (4 per cent) had levels changed.

Primary forum 28


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