For the first time, the majority of eligible pupils have sat the end of key stage 3 tests in English this summer. Those of us involved in the test marking service for schools are keen to see a competent job efficiently completed.
The tests are not intended to provide a complete picture of a pupil's work. The results will be reported alongside teachers' own assessments of pupils' achievements, arrived at on the basis of their work throughout the key stage. Both assessments are equal in status.
The tests provide a "snapshot" of pupils' strengths and weaknesses at key moments in their school career. In addition, they provide valuable information about the performance of schools for parents and others.
The end of key stage 3 tests are different from public examinations. They are not intended to be a mini-GCSE. No individual's "life chances" will be at stake on the result of these tests; no certificates will be issued. The tests are designed to allow pupils to show their attainment in as fair a way as possible, and a range of special arrangements is possible for pupils who have particular needs.
In addition, schools have been sent copies of mark schemes and other guidance material. Following external marking, the test papers will be returned to schools where teachers may put the scripts into context within the year's work or use them for "diagnostic" purposes.
The whole marking system is open. As outsiders, markers provide an objective judgment based on the national standard in which they have been trained. But markers are also answerable to schools. This is a co-operative effort.
In terms of the training programme and the quality of the markers recruited, confidence is justified. All markers are current or recent teachers of the subject they are marking. The scripts used for standardising the markers at the national and regional training conferences were collected during the piloting of the tests by the Test Development Agency and were chosen from a range to provide examples of different levels of achievement.
The other chief markers and myself were involved by the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority from an early stage - for example in the production of the Supplementary Booklet of Pupil Responses. We also contributed to the marking and consideration of scripts that led up to the decisions over the number of marks needed for the award of different levels.
So what might schools expect to find on their pupils' scripts when they are returned? All marking will be carried out in red ink. Markers have been instructed to use ticks in the main body of the text of an answer to help them keep track of where a pupil has demonstrated evidence of meeting some aspect of the performance criteria for that particular question. These ticks do not, however, necessarily indicate every aspect of credit-worthy performance, and there is no direct correlation between the number of ticks and the mark awarded. Markers have also been instructed to place a tick at the foot of the right-hand margin of every page to indicate that the page has been read.
On Paper 1, the actual marks awarded should be found, ringed, at the end of each answer, with the mark for spelling and handwriting clearly indicated - SpH - and ringed at the end of the Section C. Similarly, on Paper 2, marks for understanding and response (UR), written expression (WE) and spelling and handwriting (SpH) will be clearly indicated and ringed at the end of the answer. The same principles apply to the recording of marks on the Extension Paper.
All these marks will then be transferred to the front cover of answer books and the appropriate calculations made before totals are written up on the mark sheets. Markers must appoint an independent clerical checker to ensure that all calculations and transfers of marks have been completed accurately. Absolutely no other annotation of scripts has been permitted.
The question of offering comments on scripts will be kept under review, as will all other aspects of the marking process. It is highly likely that there will be a fair amount of diversity in the rate at which markers use ticks to guide themselves through the evaluation of an answer, as it is probably not appropriate and certainly not possible for this procedure to be over-regimented, and it seemed more helpful to allow markers to follow their "natural inclination" to put ticks on work as they are marking it - provided no one seeks to discover an equivalence between the number of ticks and the marks awarded.
The work of all markers is subject to checks: each marker is working under the supervision of a "team leader", who in turn is supervised by a "senior marker". Senior markers are supervised by the chief and deputy chief markers for their particular region. As a further check on overall standards, chief and deputy chief markers exchange samples of marked scripts to ensure comparability and accuracy of marking. No marker will be permitted to continue marking or continue supervising the marking of a colleague until their work has been approved by the next "higher" person in the chain of command.
Schools should also be reassured to learn that markers are required to work within a tolerance of about a third of a level - in other words, over papers 1 and 2, within a tolerance of about 7 marks. Bearing in mind the nature of the marking process, especially in English, with the need to make a judgment on the "best fit" principle for every answer, this is a narrow tolerance and reflects our determination to achieve a high degree of accuracy in the marking of these tests.
The whole process is a massive undertaking, involving up to 12,000 markers, all trained to the same standard. Each step in the process is being carefully scrutinised and evaluated. Colleagues can have confidence in the process and its results.
John E Green is "lead" chief marker for key stage3 English and head of English at The Cathedral School, Wakefield