Unbalanced, one-sided argument

13th June 1997 at 01:00
Dr Nicholas Tate's letter headed "Rewards of the Shakespeare tests" (TES, May 30) responding to my article (TES, May 16), begins by refuting an accusation that was never made and quoting a word ("suppressed") which was never used.

He fails to address some of the main points concerning the rationale for the test, the distortion of the English curriculum in Year 9, problems with marking and the issue of convergent answers. The suggestion that the School Curriculum and Assessment Authority's monitoring report adequately took into account the findings from the Exeter evaluation is not borne out by analysis and it should be emphasised that this is the second year that serious criticisms have been made about the test by the Exeter team.

Citing evidence from the markers, he says that "some" verdicts contradict the Exeter team's views, but the amount is unspecified. He gives great weight to the number of markers involved and the number of papers the markers "looked at", but it is unclear in terms of evaluation what this phrase means, nor does he tell us what the evaluation procedures were. How is any information from the marking being extracted and collated? A large population raises important questions regarding the management and quality of evaluation. Simply quoting big numbers is not in itself any proof of validity or reliability.

The real question is just how far SCAA is giving serious thought to the Exeter recommendation concerning the transfer of Shakespeare to teacher assessment. The nature of his response to the article suggests that the recommendation has yet again been rejected. Far from being "balanced", therefore, Dr Tate has produced a one-sided argument from a position based on preserving the test, rather than taking the opportunity provided by the Exeter findings to engage in an open debate about the best ways to teach and assess Shakespeare at key stage 3.

PAUL HIGGINS, Chair, National Association of Advisers in English, Education department, Bootle Town Hall, Oriel Road, Bootle, Merseyside

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