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Not level ground

I suspect that many English departments will be wondering why several of their pupils have received an N for the key stage 3 tests, that is they have failed to gain a level.

If, like ours, their examiner has put the level next to each mark awarded, they will be even more mystified. One pupil received the following levels for each question 3, 4, 3, minus 3, 3, 3, yet received N.

Is this a mistake? The answer is no and lies in the doublethink of KS3 testing.

According to the mark scheme, there are three marks awarded within the level 3 band: minus 3, 3 and plus 3. If the marks for minus 3 are added together, the total marks gained would be eight, and yet the level threshold for level 3 is 14! The grade boundaries for the other levels are also different from the mark scheme yet, interestingly, at the other levels the threshold is lower than the mark scheme!

Therefore, a marker who may have thought an answer was level 3 but a low level 3, and awarded a minus 3, was probably condemning that pupil to an N. What is also interesting is that in the exemplar material in the mark scheme booklet a minus 4 is described as "it just gets into level 4". How there can be a level-related mark scheme which is different from the final level thresholds, I will leave to those of a less logical nature than myself, or the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority, to explain.

What I do know is that a jump of six marks between the mark scheme and the final grade banding is an enormous increase at the level, and will have upset and disillusioned many pupils who worked hard only to achieve nothing.

Jeff Price

Head of English

Middlewich county high school

King Edward Street

Middlewich, Cheshire

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