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Inquiry calls time on test blunders

Accusations of rigging prove unfounded, but marking procedure to be improved, reports Sarah Cassidy

TEACHERS who mark national curriculum tests will be given more time to judge pupils' scripts after a series of mistakes.

The move comes in response to an official inquiry into test standards, the final results of which were published this week.

The tests will also be reviewed in response to the inquiry, but any changes will only come into effect in 2003 - after the deadline for government literacy and numeracy targets.

The inquiry - headed by Jim Rose, the Office for Standards in Education's director of inspection - was set up after accusations that pass marks had been deliberately lowered.

It ruled that these accusations were unfounded but highlighted areas where test procedures could be improved.

The new marking procedures will be introduced next year. Speeding up the transport of papers around the country should gain the test markers extra days in which to do their work. They may also get fewer scripts, if funds and staffing permit.

Around 3.6 million papers are taken by 7, 11 and 14-year-olds each summer. Currently, these must be marked within 30 days. But the time pressure on markers has been found to lead to dozens of basic mistakes and arithmetical errors each year.

From 2001 the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority - the quango responsible for the tests - may seek to further improve marking accuracy. The authority is to consult on plans to change the test timetable to allow even more time for marking. It will also investigate what shape future tests should take and how they should be run.

At present, tests are taken in May, data is returned to the Department for Education and Employment by the end of August, national results are announced in September and performance tables published in November.

The Rose report said: "The present timetable puts pressure on markers to give schools and others as much time as possible to use the results of the tests. This threatens the quality of marking and needs to be reviewed."

The authority plans to publicise its test arrangements more widely to prevent a repeat of this summer's allegations that they were rigged. It also plans to establish a new committee to scrutinise test development.

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