Sampling error

21st March 1997 at 00:00
Anne Barnes' article attacking the key stage 3 tests in English (TES, February 28) attempts to erect a flimsy argument on very slender evidence. She admits that there were only 150 respondents (about 6 per cent) to 2,500 questionnaires. Such a small, self-selected sample of members of the National Association of Teachers of English is unlikely to be representative.

She quotes one teacher saying of appeals: "The cost is prohibitive, the process unclear and unfriendly and the outcome not useful."

It is hard to see what is unclear or unfriendly in a straightforward set of instructions about how to appeal. Nor is the cost prohibitive: there is a deposit of just Pounds 5 per pupil and schools' money is refunded in full, even if only a single pupil's level changes as a result. As to usefulness, one would have thought having levels changed was an extremely "useful" outcome.

The article regards it as a "horror story" that pupils' marks should have been raised considerably on appeal. Most teachers are aware that such things occur with the same frequency in GCSE and A-level examinations. Of course, it is always unfortunate when markers carry out their work carelessly, and where this occurs schools should receive every apology. But it is precisely because markers are human, with human failings, that review procedures exist.

According to the NATE survey, the standard of marking "was said to be inconsistent", perhaps "25per cent of the results were inappropriate" and "few felt that marking had improved since the disasters of 1995". By contrast, an inspection of the recently-published Exeter University evaluation of the 1996 tests, which surveyed a representative sample of 300 schools, found that for English, 36 per cent of teachers thought the marking was "highly accurate", 48 per cent thought that the marking was "OK" and only 16 per cent thought marking accuracy was "low".

Finally, her comment on the supervision of markers - "once the marker is approved, no check is made on what they do" - is factually wrong.

Markers' work is checked three times during the marking process. At the end of marking, 50 scripts from every marker are sampled to check standards have been maintained. This procedure is every bit as rigorous as for GCSE marking.

The ultimate check on the marking of the key stage 3 scripts is that they are returned to schools. English teachers should realise that their colleagues are doing a very competent job as markers. It would be nice to see NATE members recognising this and trusting their colleagues.

JOHN GREEN Lead chief marker, KS3 English 43 Heron Drive, Wakefield

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