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Much ado about testing

In your article about this year's KS3 tests ("English papers fail to hit the spot", TES, May 13) you quoted responses to the question: "How does Macbeth's language show that he feels afraid but is determined to keep his power?"

One teacher said there would have been no problem if the question had been worded more simply, for example "What does Macbeth say to show he is scared, and what does he say that shows he still wants to be king?".

The difference between these two questions neatly illustrates the gulf between what those setting the questions think they are doing and what teachers aim to do. The test question seems to ask for an academic response to Shakespeare's image patterns, figures of speech, rhythms and so on. The teacher's question asks for a response to Macbeth's personality and situation. Both questions are interesting, but to different age groups.

We have to ask ourselves why 14-year-olds are being asked to read Macbeth.

It must be because the story is exciting, the characters fascinating and yes, the language intoxicating. We want them to enjoy and be moved by it all. But the academic study of language should be left until later when it will seem even richer.

So why can't the KS3 tests provide simple questions with wide opportunities for children to demonstrate their abilities?

Far from dumbing down, simpler questions are often more taxing than pretentious ones. They are also more likely to support the often exciting work that has been done by pupils and teachers in the classroom.

Anne Barnes

Education officer

National Literacy Association

321 Bradford Street


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