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A question of questions

Sarah Cassidy explains the tortuous process of setting national tests

THIS week sees the end of a stressful month for 1.8 million pupils who have just sat their national tests. But the complex standard-setting process continues long after tests are taken.

England now uses more tests for more purposes than most other nations - certainly among developed Western countries.

This summer was the sixth consecutive year in which all 7, 11 and 14-year-olds took national tests and the third since the Education Secretary David Blunkett announced ambitious targets based on their results. The highest stakes surround tests for 11-year-olds on which targets are based. Mr Blunkett has said he will resign if the targets aren't reached.

The English reading test for 11-year-olds has attracted the most controversy. Last year Qualifications and Curriculum Authority officials were accused of deliberately lowering the passmark to ensure targets were met.

The subsequent inquiry, headed by OFSTED's former head of inspection, Jim Rose, concluded that ministers and QCA officials had not tampered with the tests. But the six-week investigation also revealed a lot abou the tortuous process of test preparation as well as asking fundamental questions about the way standards are measured and the nature of those standards.

Devising new tests each year is a major problem for test developers who are expected to ensure that standards remain constant.

Tests are developed for the QCA by contracted test development agencies. The National Foundation for Educational Research is responsible for developing key stage 2 English tests for 2000-02.


Summerautumn 1998 - first trawl for material

Winter 199899 - first pre-test

Springsummer 1999 - second pre-test

JanFeb 2000 - finalisation of mark schemes and tests, draft level setting

followed by the formal handover of tests to QCA by the development agencies

Spring 2000 - tests printed and

distributed to schools

May 2000 - administration of the test

June 2000 - levels confirmed

JuneJuly 2000 - marked scripts returned to schools

Autumn 2000 - evaluation of the tests

Winter 2000 - feedback to schools through the standards reports and results of test evaluation questionnaire

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