1999 reading test easier, says head

29th October 1999 at 01:00
A CAMBRIDGESHIRE primary school has added to the growing doubts about this year's dramatic jump in boys' reading scores with research appearing to show the test was substantially easier.

Two weeks ago a respected former secondary head and member of the Rose inquiry into test standards told The TES that this summer's reading test - all about spiders - was boy-friendly.

Peter Downes said the short, large-type poem called Spinners, illustrated with cartoons, was much more to boys' taste than last year's extract, a long piece where the main character was a girl.

Now one of his former feeder schools not only backed this theory, but suggests that the test was easier overall. Godmanchester school gave this September's Year 6 pupils two tests: this summer's, and the one from the year before.

It found that:

69 per cent of the 70 pupils managed level 4 (the expected standard for 11-year-olds) on this year's test, only 63 per cent on last year's.

19 per cent reached level 5 on the 1999 test, only 10 per cent on the 1998 test

the 58 children achieving level 3 or 4 on the 1998 test showed an average gain of nearly 12 percentage points when they took this year's.

the 31 boys at level 3 or 4 showed an even bigger, 18-point leap while girls managed five points on average.

Nationally, last summer's 11-year-olds showed a large and unexpected improvement. Boys shot forward by 14 percentage points although girls, who made a six-point gain, remain ahead. Nearly 66 per cent of girls are at level 4, compared with 49 per cent of boys.

The Godmanchester study was conducted by three class teachers and the head, Brian Brown. "We're talking about differences of 20 per cent or more among some children," he said. "That I find significant. I have worked in this job for 30 years and have never seen this sort of jump in reading scores. I don't think that even the literacy strategy is responsible for that."

For Mr Brown's research half the pupils took this year's test first, while the other half took the 1998 papers first. This ensured that the practice of doing a previous exam did not affect the marks gained.

Dr Seamus Hegarty, director of the National Foundation for Educational Research which developed the tests, said: "This is only one study in one particular school. As part of our comprehensive level-setting exercise we got 1,300 children sitting their "live" test in 1998 to also sit the 1999 test. We then set the levels of the 1999 test to ensure that a child who achieved a particular level in 1998 would get the same result in 1999."

A spokesman for the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, the quango responsible for the tests, said: "The reading test was extensively trialled with more than a thousand pupils. It was also assessed on the grounds of gender and ethnicity to make sure there was no bias. We're confident we have maintained the standard.

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