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US firm set to pilot online marking of KS2-3 tests

On-screen marking is likely to be extended from next year, The TES can reveal. As controversy again hits the computerised examining of millions of GCSE and A-level scripts, a pilot is about to take place for key stages 2 and 3 tests.

ETS Europe, a division of the firm that runs university entrance tests in the US, takes over marking of UK tests next year. The firm plans to trial the introduction of technology for several aspects of marking later this autumn, although wholesale on-screen marking is some way off.

Under the trial, examiners will undertake marker training online, rather than in person. ETS will also check how examiners are performing by making them mark a sample of scripts before and during their main examining load. This will be done online rather than through the post. Examiners will enter marks on-screen and a pupil's level will be calculated automatically.

The trials will involve 900 markers who will mark pupils' scripts from tests taken in 2005 and 2006. If successful, it will be used for next year's national tests.

Andy Latham, vice-president of ETS Europe, said wholesale marking of key stage 2 and 3 papers would not take place before 2010.

He said: "There's a lot of promise in this as an approach, but we have to make sure it's done right." The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority is believed to have made the introduction of on-screen marking a condition of awarding the contract to mark national tests, which ETS won last year and will hold until 2012.

Edexcel, which held the contract for three years, is said to have been pushing for greater use of technology as far back as 2005.

The BBC has reported that on-screen marking of GCSEs and A-levels, in which Edexcel has led the way, may be behind an alleged increase in inaccurate grades this year.

Tolworth Girls' School in Surrey said it sent back a record number of scripts to be re-marked this year. Clarissa Williams, the head and NAHT vice president, said she did not have enough evidence that online marking was behind the problems. No definitive figures are available on whether marking complaints are up this year.

Other unions were split on the issue. The National Union of Teachers said the change from paper-and-pen examining raised concerns, such as the difficulty in annotating scripts on-screen.

John Dunford, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said his union had received no complaints about the use of technology. He viewed the new system as more accurate than traditional methods.

The Government's new functional skills tests, which pupils will have to pass to gain C grades in GCSE English, maths and science from 2010, are also likely to be offered at the computer screen, according to the QCA.

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