Exams watchdog admits that THAT semi-colon question 'didn't function' #satsshambles

Controversial semi-colon question in Sats test was more likely to have mark changed on appeal than other KS2 Spag questions

Helen Ward

News article image

Sats marking guidance is to be made less prescriptive following the #satsshambles outcry this year, when it emerged that markers had been given stricter rules to follow than those in the published mark scheme.

Ofqual has revealed that the changes are being made after one particular question about semi-colons in this year’s spelling, punctuation and grammar (Spag) test “did not function as intended”.

The question asked pupils to correctly position a handwritten semi-colon into a sentence.

But when the papers were returned to schools, teachers asked why pupils had not been awarded a mark when the semi-colon had been put in the correct place.

It was then revealed that markers had further guidance on the size, height and orientation of the semi-colon, which was not available to teachers.

Unions demanded that the Sats markers' guidance should be made available to all schools, with Russell Hobby, then general secretary of the NAHT heads' union, saying that without transparent marking guidance “people feel the goalposts have been shifted”.

Freedom of Information requests for the guidance to be revealed were refused on the grounds that it would not be in the public interest and “is likely to risk adding to teacher and, in turn, pupil, stress”.

There were 2,980 schools that wanted 6,244 Spag tests to be reviewed – and 10.3 per cent of these reviews were successful, according to figures published earlier this year.

Semi-colon chaos

And in its annual report on the regulation of the Sats tests, published today, Ofqual reveals that there were a “higher number of changes made to this item [the semi-colon question] during marking reviews compared to other items”.

 Ofqual says that it reviewed the data from the tests, which revealed that the semi-colon question “did not function as intended”.

“It appears likely that this was because during live marking, markers had taken a stricter interpretation of the mark scheme than had been intended, on the basis of training or guidance materials provided,” the report states.

It says that there is no evidence that the functioning of this question had any overall impact on the functioning of the test, which was taken by around 580,000 10- and 11-year-olds.

But it says that the Standards and Testing Agency (STA), which runs the tests, has now committed to making marker guidance and training clearer and reducing the level of prescription in the relevant mark scheme.

Want to keep up with the latest education news and opinion? Follow Tes on Twitter and Instagram, and like Tes on Facebook

Register to continue reading for free

It only takes a moment and you'll get access to more news, plus courses, jobs and teaching resources tailored to you

Helen Ward

Helen Ward

Helen Ward is a reporter at Tes

Find me on Twitter @teshelen

Latest stories

Woman, squeezed into cardboard box

Why I can't stand set lesson plans

Any one-size-fits-all structure imposed on classroom teachers risks removing the joy from learning, says Megan Mansworth
Megan Mansworth 17 May 2021