English papers at 14 were 'too hard'

28th May 1999 at 01:00
TEENAGERS needed a reading age of 16 to take this year's English national tests for 13 and 14-year-olds, according to English teachers.

The tests were far too difficult and should be marked more leniently this year, they argue.

The key stage 3 reading test taken by 600,000 teenagers earlier this month asked pupils to recognise words such as "aeronautical", "convulsively" and "tumultuous".

It included an extract from HG Wells' The War of the Worlds and a travel article on the Loch Ness monster. Teachers believe the article's first sentence "Urquhart Castle is probably one of the most picturesquely situated castles in the Scottish Highlands" would have thrown many readers.

They have protested at the extensive use of unfamiliar language and sentence structure in a test aimed at children of all abilities.

The National Association for the Teaching of English is to carry out a survey of its members on this year's tests after receiving several complaints.

Ruth Moore, NATE vice-chair and head of arts and media at Blyth Ridley school in Northumberland, said: "The choice of this year's material was unfortunate. The tests are not considering the range of ability at KS3. They try to catch kids out rather than trying to find out what they know."

Fogg and Smogg readability tests, which analyse the number of words of three syllables or more in a set length of text, found the Loch Ness monster article and The War of the Worlds extract required reading ages of around 16.

In contrast, the same analysis revealed that last year's texts required reading ages as low as 12.

Sian Davies, head of English at Merrywood school in Bristol, said: "We were concerned when we read paper one - our gut reaction was that the vocabulary, sentence structure and choice of material was not suitable for a national test for 13 and 14-year-olds.

"The extract from The War of the Worlds is particularly challenging - maybe it would appeal to a certain middle-class reader but we doubt that it would engage many pupils. As our school serves an inner-city area we feel that our pupils were disadvantaged."

But a spokeswoman for the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, the quango responsible for the papers, said its own readability tests had judged the text to be suitable. She said: "Pupils rated the interest level of the Loch Ness monster article more highly than either of the 1998 passages but a similar level of difficulty. The familiarity of the subject matter and the absence of difficult concepts increased its readability."

Letters, 18

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