Company that marks Sats beset by mayhem

16th May 2008 at 01:00
Markers complain of confusion over training, delayed contracts and jammed helplines
Markers complain of confusion over training, delayed contracts and jammed helplines

When ETS Europe was awarded the contract to run the marking of national curriculum tests last year, it promised radical changes to the process. But markers' difficulties in recent weeks are not what it had in mind.

Staff have bombarded the TES online staffroom to complain about problems, from delays receiving contracts and the botched organisation of training events to constantly jammed telephone lines.

In February last year, ETS Europe won a pound;156 million, five-year contract to take over from the Edexcel board in co-ordinating the marking of more than 1.2 million test papers from this summer.

The firm is an offshoot of ETS, an American not-for-profit body that runs the SAT university entrance tests in the United States.

It had convinced the National Assessment Agency that it could improve the process, and this week David Gee, the agency's managing director, said he still believed it would raise marking standards.

Among its changes are using technology to check on marking quality, with examiners asked to assess a sample of scripts on screen before they were approved to mark.

But problems arose this year when markers said ETS was struggling to process data they provided. Some worried about the firm having mistaken whether they marked key stage 2 or 3, and their subject.

As the tests loomed, many markers were nervous because they did not know the location of crucial training events. Others were asked to travel hundreds of miles to attend their allocated training sessions.

One teacher said she had hung up after ringing a helpline set up by the NAA and found that she was 75th in the queue.

Some KS3 markers who attended training in maths and science on Saturday said it passed relatively smoothly. But KS3 English has been beset by problems. Nearly all who tried to complete a trial by marking 10 papers on screen were rejected by the computer.

ETS Europe promised this week that this glitch was being fixed, but many markers seem to have thrown in the towel. Ian McNeilly, a spokesman for the National Association for the Teaching of English, said the problems would pile fresh pressure on the English tests, which were already unpopular.

He said: "I have received reports that stalwart, experienced markers have given up because of the difficulties this year. It is not encouraging to hear these stories, given that the tests are already a grave source of disquiet for teachers."

Andy Latham, ETS Europe's vice-president, said there had been a problem with the online standardisation for KS3 English. So the deadline for markers to complete sample scripts assessing their suitability had been postponed.

He added: "We are working very hard to address the issues out there. We remain firmly committed to our deadline for the delivery of results."

Leading article, page 28

MARKERS' COMMENTS

KS3 maths marking team leader:

"Although the administration side of things is indeed appalling, my chief concerns relate to the quality of the marking, which I believe is in jeopardy because of the training model adopted and also, crucially, the practices surrounding standardisation."

KS3 English marking team leader:

"Markers and team leaders were sent all over the country for training, regardless of where they lived. As a result, training venues - certainly in the south of England - were down to 60 per cent attendance."

KS3 science marker:

"I have had a nightmare with this."

Markers said they had signed "gagging" clauses in their contracts, forbidding them to discuss the examining process with the media, so these comments are printed anonymously.

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