Clarke denies lowering standards as pass mark is cut for English exam

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The Independent Online

Charles Clarke, the Education Secretary, denied that the standard of national tests for 11-year-olds was being eroded yesterday after it emerged that examiners had lowered the pass mark on this year's English test.

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority has decided to cut the mark required for pupils to be awarded level four in Key Stage two tests - the standard expected of an 11-year-old. But the Conservatives accused ministers of using "dodgy" results to claim that targets were being met.

But Mr Clarke said it was necessary to cut the level four pass mark from 49 per cent to 44 per cent to ensure that the standard of the test remained constant.

The QCA and the Department for Education and Skills accused critics of undermining pupils' work, insisting that the change reflected the greater difficulty of this year's English paper. They said that pass marks for each grade were raised or lowered each year to ensure the overall standard of the tests in English, maths and science remained constant despite differences in each years' exam papers.

However Damian Green, the shadow Education Secretary, said: "Now we know that when ministers claim improving standards in primary schools they will be doing so on the basis of dodgy figures. As long as ministers are obsessed with hitting targets rather than raising real standards, we will get this kind of nonsense."

A spokeswoman for the QCA said that meetings to set the grade boundaries were monitored by teachers' unions and independent academics.

"Teachers and pupils work extremely hard and we are confident that pupils will receive the levels that they have earned in those tests.

"Great care is taken by QCA to set mark thresholds at the point where the standard of work needed to achieve a level is the same as in previous years.

"The questions are different each year, otherwise pupils would know what was in the tests. The structure and content of the tests also changes as the curriculum changes, and there have been important changes this year."

Mr Clarke told ITV's Jonathan Dimbleby programme: "They would never lower standards, we would never lower standards. It's absolutely the wrong way to go.

"I meet the leadership of the QCA from time to time ... it would be completely wrong for me or any of my ministers to behave in this way, which we would not do."