Rewards of the Shakespeare tests

30th May 1997 at 01:00
The accusation that the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority has "suppressed" last year's evaluation report on the key stage 3 English tests by Exeter University ("Test leaves pupils bored by the Bard", TES, May 16) is simply untrue.

We published the Exeter report, as we always do, as an independent evaluation. Certainly, the researchers made some critical comments about the Shakespeare paper, based on their reading of a sample of test scripts. SCAA's report to schools on the key stage 3 English tests was never intended to be a summary of the Exeter report alone. It was written for the entirely different purpose of highlighting strengths and weaknesses in national performance on the tests, and giving advice to teachers on how to prepare their pupils more effectively for them.

Our report drew partly on the Exeter team's research, but it also drew on evidence from the team which developed and trialled the tests, from correspondence received from schools, and from reports written by the chief markers.

Some of the markers' verdicts directly contradict the Exeter team's views. I quote: "There is continuing evidence that teachers work very hard preparing their pupils for (the Shakespeare paper), and in the process have made the study of Shakespeare a lively and rewarding experience for them... Even the weakest answers usually demonstrated some spark of enthusiasm, even if this was couched in less formal terminology than that traditionally associated with literary criticism."

So far as the educational value of the exercise is concerned, the markers point to "evidence, at all levels of ability, of pupils becoming more adept at organising what they wanted to say in their answers", and comment that "the tasks were apparently 'simple', yet at the same time were 'open' enough to enable better pupils to demonstrate a considerable depth of knowledge and understanding".

The Exeter research team looked at just over 2,000 test papers; the markers looked at nearly 600,000. There were eight members in the Exeter team, but some 2,500 markers. SCAA does not question the integrity of the Exeter research; however, their conclusions represent but one interpretation of the evidence.

SCAA's own report recognises both sides of the picture when it says "there was extensive evidence from pupils' scripts that the study of Shakespeare had been made enjoyable and rewarding", while at the same time, "pupils from the same school and class sometimes produced very similar answers".

It is a pity that space could not have been found in the article for the comments we made, which would have given a more balanced impression.

NICHOLAS TATE

Chief executive

School Curriculum and Assessment Authority

45 Notting Hill Gate

London W11

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