Would you buy a test from this man?;Letter

24th September 1999 at 01:00
I READ with a mixture of amusement and outrage Dr Nick Tate's assessment of the current curriculum testing regime (TES, September 10).

This smug, self-congratulatory piece about the curriculum testing regime being "a high-quality product" in which the "level-setting

procedures are some of the most sophisticated in the world" was more the musings of a fiddling Nero than an informed assessment of the true reality for the humble consumers of the "product".

My experience as a head of English is that the testing regime is shot through with flaws, incompetence and inconsistencies. For two years my school's Year 9 students and my English department colleagues have been victims of the gross incompetence of this "sophisticated" testing regime.

Two years ago our English test papers were ridiculously over-marked - we gained 81 per cent level 5 and above. This set up totally false expectations of future achievement in the minds of pupils and parents.

But then 1999 was the year of the hatchet job. We gained only 47 per cent level 5 and above. This was unbelievable with a similar cohort of pupils as previous years and improved teaching. So after 10 hours of scrutinising our pupils' test papers, we challenged this obvious travesty. The results of the re-mark? Of the sample of 47 pupils remarked, 27 were raised by a level - a 10 per cent change! One girl was upgraded by 19 marks - almost two levels! And what of the other 63 pupils who were not re-marked? We're pursuing it. Is this what passes for sophistication Dr Tate?

Let's take an obvious example of the regime's inconsistency. A level 4 at key stage 2 purports to equate with a level 4 at key stage 3, but there's no compulsory Shakespeare at key stage 2 so how can there be comparability of standards? And if this assessment regime is of such "quality" why was the marking agency sacked last year and the arrival of test marks delayed until September?

In the complex machinery of assessment that Dr Tate oversees, national test results have been made pivotal. They are used for

target-setting, for league tables, as performance indicators by inspectors - and yet in English the regime is not working. The quality of marking and supervision of marking in our experience is desperately poor.

I was an assistant chief moderator for GCSE English for 10 years and I know only too well the rigour required in monitoring markers to apply mark schemes with consistency. Dr Tate wilfully deceives himself if he believes this rigour exists in the marking of English tests. This "high-quality product" is in reality a rag-bag of shoddy merchandise.

Barrie Day

Head of English

Newman school


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