Test results re-marking found to be a lottery

John Green's defence of the marking of key stage 3 English national tests (TES Letters, March 21) displays the complacency of an "insider" by suggesting that the checking procedures are "every bit as rigorous as for GCSE marking".

What he describes as the appeals procedure is actually a re-marking procedure, akin to the GCSE result inquiry. Any centre remaining dissatisfied following a GCSE result inquiry can implement a multi-stage appeals procedure. There is no appeals procedure for SATs, and if the re-mark confirms all of the levels originally awarded, the school loses its deposit in full; at Pounds 5 per candidate, this is potentially very expensive.

This would not present a problem if schools could have faith in the accuracy of re-markers. Sadly, they can't, as our own case demonstrates. In 1995, we asked for a re-marking of almost all English scripts. In the end, because of an unusual set of circumstances, our scripts were re-marked in two batches by two separate senior markers. We may therefore be the only school in the country to be able to make a direct comparison, since both batches represented a full spread of ability and levels, and all had been marked originally by the same marker.

Mr C re-marked 44 scripts, finding for paper 1 that only one had been awarded the correct mark; among the remainder, the average increase he awarded was five marks. Mr P re-marked 70 scripts, finding that the majority (39) had been marked accurately and, among the remainder, almost all were increased by just one mark. For paper 2, Mr C found that only seven of his 44 scripts had been awarded the correct mark and, among the rest, the average increase was three marks. In his commentary, he stated "the understanding and response was marked harshly in the papers of all pupils". Yet Mr P found that 62 of his 70 scripts were not marked harshly, meriting no increase at all; he awarded just one mark to the remaining eight candidates.

Mr C's re-marking resulted in 21 out of 44 candidates being awarded a higher level. Mr P found that none of his 70 merited a higher level. Although there is no provision for an appeal, I am pleased to say that the marking agency agreed to our request for a further re-marking by Mr C (the chief marker), who finally awarded significant increases to the remaining 70 candidates.

In 1996, we were again dissatisfied with the marking of English SATs but this time sought no re-marking, recognising that everything depends on who is assigned to conduct the re-marking, and that there is still no appeals procedure.

The Exeter study found 16 per cent of English teachers to be particularly dissatisfied with the 1996 KS3 marking yet only 4 per cent of schools requested re-marking even for a single candidate. This should be a cause for concern rather than complacency.

John Green says that when markers are careless, schools should receive every apology. Despite our one verbal and two written requests for an explanation and apology, we never received one from the agency.

BOB O'HAGAN Head, Hasland Hall Community School Broomfield Avenue,Haslan, Chesterfield

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