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Science tests also dogged by 'rigid' marking

There has been some discussion in recent editions of The TES concerning problems which have arisen with the English key stage 3 national tests. We believe a similar discussion should be opened with respect to the science tests.

We received the returned test papers and the school mark sheets and busily started to produce an understandable list of pupils' marks and levels of attainment, leading to a simple order of merit. Eventually the question was asked as to what pupils had done wrong which meant that they didn't get a level 6 or 5 by one or two marks.

Some six pupils' scripts were obtained and their papers were examined in detail by members of the department. In five pupils' cases, it was found that there was good reason to formulate appeals because answers that they had given were marked wrong and were obviously correct. This led us to consider that if we could find these mistakes on five sets of papers, what was the effect on other pupils' papers? There then followed a detailed examination of all the wrong answers on every child's papers. The results we found to be disturbing to say the least. A total of 265 mistakes were discovered on 128 pupils' scripts. A lot of pupils had no mistakes, but in one case there were a total of eight mistakes. However, this could only lead to 11 appeals due to the constraints of the appeal procedure. These appeals are obviously sub judice at the present time but we feel that there is need to bring our findings to the attention of a wider audience.

A second question which had an answer "overcrowded" had answers of "too crowded" marked wrong. Another with an expected answer of "even more flatter" had answers by pupils of "more flatter" marked wrong.

We could go into even more detail but the point is made. What needs to be addressed now is what is wrong with the system. The following questions need answering:

* If the tests are so important, why are there not comprehensive and detailed marking meetings so that these problems do not occur in the future? Apparently because of the way in which the initial checking took place, some markers had only three days to complete the marking of over 300 papers. If we want accuracy, this is not the way to do it.

* Can a system be put in place which ensures that this type of interpretation problem does not occur again? GCSE boards do it. If these tests are so important, then exactly the same process should be in place and not, apparently, a totally rigid mark scheme imposed centrally with little if any chance of discussion.

* What is the point of a system of examinations which offers nothing concrete to the people who really matter - the pupils?

Z KUBERT and five other science teachers Coppice High School Wednesfield Wolverhampton

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