11-year-olds fail to make the expected grade because of a new test marking scheme. Helen Ward reports
AROUND 6,000 11-year-olds were denied level 4 in English this year because of changes to the way the test was marked, government officials have admitted.
Overall this year, for the third year running, English results stalled with 75 per cent of Year 6 pupils reaching level 4. Statisticians estimate the results would have gone up by 1 percentage point if the old mark scheme were still in use.
Under the old scheme, marks were awarded in blocks. If children reached certain criteria they received a set number of marks. This led to clusters of children with the same score.
The new scheme has a continuous scale, which gives markers the ability to be more discriminating, so the clusters seen in previous years have disappeared and children are more evenly spread along the scale.
Officials have discovered that fewer children got writing scores just below the level 4 threshold this year so a stronger performance in reading did not compensate when the two were added together to calculate the overall English level.
Pupils were asked to write a story about a boy queuing to buy a game and a radio advert for a toy. There was also a spelling test.
To test their reading, pupils read a booklet about heroes, heroines and superheroes and answered questions. The format of the reading tests was not changed this year and more children reached level 4.
In writing, where the mark scheme changed, scores remained the same as last year.
A spokesman for the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority said: "When comparing this year and last year, it is less likely that high scores in reading will compensate for a lower score in writing. Some children found it more difficult to reach level 4 in English then they would have last year."
The new mark scheme asked markers to focus first on sentence structure and punctuation, then how well the text was organised before looking at the overall composition and effect.
The results released this month are provisional and may change by one percentage point either way when re-mark results are known. There has been a fivefold increase in requests for re-marks this year compared to last year.
Chris Davis, chairman of the National Association of Primary Headteachers, said: "Year-on-year comparisons have always been dubious as the tests themselves lack consistency.
"This belated improvement to the accuracy of the marking scheme merely reinforces our belief that such comparisons have always been unfair and unreliable.
"The "pass" mark is the critical factor, but this is an example of the fact that that levels are very arbitrary. They are not quite plucked out of the sky, but it is not far off."
THree years of Level 4
2001 English: 75*
2002 English: 75*
2003 English: 75*