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English test 'too hard' for most 14-year-olds

Teachers tell survey that the 1999 key stage 3 reading tests were only suitable for their brightest pupils. Sarah Cassidy reports.

LAST summer's English national tests for 14-year-olds were too hard for all but the brightest children, according to a survey of teachers.

Most of those questioned by the the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority were unhappy with the marking of the secondary English tests, with more than half planning to have scripts reviewed, a survey of 200 schools found.

Three-quarters of the secondary teachers thought the reading test was too hard for pupils performing at or below the expected level for their age - level five. Only 60 per cent of teachers thought it was suitable for even the brightest pupils.

Some complained that the extract from HG Wells's War of the Worlds was boy-friendly and the Loch Ness monster passage was unsuitable for "inner-city" pupils. However, the QCA's analysis showed that although the HG Wells passage was preferred by boys, they did not, in general, give better answers than girls.

More than 35 per cent of schools said they intended to ask for the key stage 3 English tests to be re-marked for at least one pupil and a further 20 per cent intended to request a clerical review.

In most cases the concerns related to only a small number of pupils, although two schools said they planned to ask for more than 200 scripts to be remarked.

The English grade levels of 17,197 pupils were changed in 1999 (less than 1 per cent of the total who sat te tests).

A QCA spokesman said: "Historically, most appeals have been in English at key stage 3 which are the most difficult papers to mark. The absolutely consistent marking of language work is difficult to achieve but we aim at as careful a standardisation as possible. This involves chief markers at national level, carefully designed mark schemes, extensive training for markers at all levels and a rigorous programme of monitoring.

"The system is under constant review, and this year the QCA is further improving the quality of marker training and the 'post-completion check' will involve a larger sample."

Only two-fifths of teachers who responded felt that their pupils had been motivated by, or enjoyed, the Shakespeare paper. A significant number of respondents called for the test to be replaced by teacher assessment in order to boost pupil motivation.

Teachers were much more positive about the maths tests for 14-year-olds, although the written tests were criticised by some as too wordy and difficult for pupils of low reading ability. The vast majority - 96 per cent - said last summer's test were much more suitable than the previous year's.

The mental arithmetic tests were also criticised with one quarter of teachers recording only fair or low levels of satisfaction. Only half of pupils were reported to have enjoyed the mental arithmetic test.

Primary teachers at both key stage 1 and 2 recorded higher levels of satisfaction with the full range of the tests taken by their pupils.

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