Letters Extra: Feedback on KS3 English Sats

21st May 2004 at 01:00
As news breaks that pound;100 million is to be spent on the NAA, whose remit is, apparently, to produce an assessment regime even more "world class" than the one the QCA currently manages, I thought a few comments on last week's KS3 English SATs offering might be apt.

On the Reading Paper the source material contained no fiction. This limited the range of Assessment Objectives covered and, more importantly, sent out the message that English is little more than a support mechanism for Literacy. To produce a booklet that completely ignores literature is unacceptable.

The nature of the questions is also a concern. Some of the more esoteric ones (defining "sordid reek" for example) clearly disadvantaged Level 4 candidates. It seems that the questioning mode selected aims to reduce the subject to what is easy to quantify, rather than allow the candidates to show what they can do.

The format of the Writing Paper was a mess. What should have been a test of writing skills was undermined by what amounted to a strange reading task. The "guidance" made a simple task complicated. Real writers do not make the fatuous notes about writing "lively" dialogue, nor would they place these notes next to a media clipping when constructing plot. QCA need to remember that their English tests are essentially undifferentiated. Level 4 candidates in our centre found the format utterly confusing. The irony in this is, of course, that the notes provided were supposed to help the candidates!

Perhaps cowed by media criticism of last year's allegedly "dumbed down" Shakespeare Paper, the QCA thought it would be a good idea to couch the Macbeth Reading Question this year in terms that an "A" Level student would recognise...

"How do these extracts explore the idea that it is difficult to know whom we trust?"

This is challenging conceptually and in its phrasing. Doubtless the more able candidates enjoyed it, but how valid is it as a compulsory national test question for those at the lower end of the target range?

To conclude. We now have a testing model that utterly dominates teaching and learning in years 7 to 9. The model is cumbersome, expensive, lacking in differentiation and patently reductive. It disenfranchises the least able. Given the well publicised problems of recent years, it also produces results that are unreliable.

At the very least, two tiers are required (as is the case with GCSE). A better solution for the future would be to scrap the whole sorry Sats enterprise. Consider: An NFER Group Reading Test takes about 30 minutes to do and provides high quality evidence of reading skillsreading ages. The English Sats papers fail to achieve even that.

Food for thought for the QCA's new assessment body?
Peter Woolnough

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