English papers fail to hit the spot

13th May 2005 at 01:00
Key stage 3 questions were botched again - and on the same Shakespeare play - as teachers complain of pupils left in tears

English teachers were in despair this week after complaining that tests for 14-year-olds have been botched again.

Last week's assessments, taken by 600,000 teenagers, featured a question on Macbeth which some staff said was too hard even for top-set youngsters.

Some pupils were reportedly in tears.

The longer writing task, in which pupils were asked to compile a progress report on the design of a robot, was criticised as uninspiring.

Key stage 3 English tests have been beset by problems. Last year, a string of administrative mistakes led to the resignation of Jonathan Ford as managing director of the National Assessment Agency.

Last week, pupils who had studied Macbeth had to read two extracts from the play.

They were then asked: "How does Macbeth's language show that he feels afraid but is determined to keep his power?"

The language of the question appears to have enraged teachers. One told the TES website there was "almost mass panic, with hands shooting up to say they did not understand the question".

An advanced skills teacher from Birmingham said: "Our exams officer was so disgusted... that he has written to the National Assessment Agency to express his concern that the test was flawed."

Teachers also flooded Teachit, a website for English teachers, with complaints. One wrote: "Went into the exam after 20 minutes and five of my top-band class had not written a thing and were near to tears."

One teacher said that if the question had been worded more simply, such as "what does Macbeth say to show he is scared, and what does he say that shows he still wants to be king?", there would have been no problem.

Schools choose whether to study Macbeth, Henry V or Much Ado about Nothing for the Shakespeare task, worth 18 marks out of 100.

Several teachers felt the Much Ado question, which asked what pupils learned about Benedick's attitude to love and marriage from two extracts, was far easier.

This is the second year that there have been widespread complaints about the Macbeth question. Some teachers said 2004's task would have challenged A-level students.

Some were also concerned about the reading task, which featured extracts on the history of Ellis Island, New York, from Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness and from an email conversation between two girls.

Huge pressure is on the NAA, an arm of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, to ensure this year's KS3 English tests go smoothly. Judging by the reaction on the Teachit site, this year's tests have only fuelled dissatisfaction.

One teacher said: "Today I was consoling kids who are crying because they think they've failed and let me down. I feel so powerless. What can I do? not " An NAA spokeswoman said: "All test questions are put through a rigorous development process to make sure they are both challenging and interesting.

This year's long writing question was very successful with the 3,000 children who tackled it during development. Our evidence shows that all of our Shakespeare questions were of equal standard."

* warwick.mansell@tes.co.uk

www.tes.co.ukstaffroom

Subscribe to get access to the content on this page.

If you are already a TES/ TESS subscriber please log in with your username or email address to get full access to our back issues, CPD library and membership plus page.

Not a subscriber? Find out more about our subscription offers.
Subscribe now
Existing subscriber?
Enter subscription number

Comments

Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
 
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar, Buyagift.com, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today