KS3 tests 'wide of the mark' about test marking

NATE survey reveals concerns over marking and appeals system, says Anne Barnes.

Alimited study carried out by the National Association for the Teaching of English has revealed concern over the accuracy of marking in the key stage 3 tests in 1996.

Only 150 out of 2,500 questionnaires were returned by NATE members, but among those thatJdid there was overwhelming agreement that the appeals system was not worth the effort. "The cost is prohibitive, the process unclear and unfriendly and the outcome not useful," one teacher said.

NATE posed three questions on the correlation of test results with teacher assessment, the appeals system and testing arrangements.

Most teachers said parents were happy with the teacher assessment results and saw the disparity between that and the test as a result of exam nerves. Many said they had not needed to appeal because the test marks came out higher than their assessments.

But others told horror stories of, for example, students having marks raised on appeal from 12 out of 30 to 26 or situations where 113 pupils out of 242 had to be upgraded.

This research suggests that a more thorough study might reveal a parallel situation to that at key stage 2, where 25 per cent of results were inappropriate.

The standard of marking was seen as discrediting the tests. It was said to be inconsistent, with too many pupils of different abilities ending up on the same level because the boundaries were so wide, allowing a huge discrepancy between the achievement of students within a grade boundary.

Few felt that marking had improved since the disasters of 1995. Many were unconvinced that any system of external marking could be as reliable as teacher assessment.

Many commented on the inadequacies of the audit system. At key stage 3, the markers are organised into teams with a leader who takes samples of each marker's work and then decides whether they are in line with the agreed standards. Once the marker is approved, no check is made on what they do.

This contrasts with the system at GCSE where the standardising by the team leader is done at the end of the process - so that the marker knows that all their work may be checked right up to their last script.

Some agreed with the practice of sending the scripts back to the schools after marking. One teacher said: "It is helpful to be able to see the marked scripts. This should happen at GCSE and A-level too. In the past, even when I have applied for a costly re-mark and report I have found little correspondence between the known abilities of our candidates and the comments of examiners. Only sight of scripts can explain what has happened in such cases."

Responses about the testing arrangements criticised the Shakespeare paper. It was said to "place too much pressure on staff to use unsuitable teaching strategies".

One teacher pointed out that pupils benefit from experiencing a public exam when they are 14, but many said it was "a waste of time". Many argued for work on Shakespeare to be assessed through coursework.

Anne Barnes is general secretary of NATE

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