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Reading levels questioned

New research has cast doubt on Labour's claims that the national literacy strategy has dramatically improved children's reading levels. Key stage 2 English scores have gone up by 10 per cent in two years. Three-quarters of children reached the expected level in 2000, well on course for the 2002 target of 80 per cent. The rise is almost entirely accounted for by improvements in reading test performance.

However, Mary Hilton, senior lecturer at Homerton College,Cambridge, claims that between 1998 and 2000 the number of questions demanding that pupils simply repeat answers contained in the text increased, while the number of questions requiring pupils to use higher-order reading skills markedly decreased.

Ms Hilton said: "These changes have made the reading tests progressively easier. Testing procedures could be disguising a fall in reading standards as the national literacy strategy begins to take effect."

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