How would you mark these 14-year-olds?

In the 14-plus test mess, poor work has been rewarded and good work down-graded. Worse still these tests could sabotage pupils' GCSE chances
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The Independent Online
English teachers are angry about the marking of national tests for 14-year-olds. They say some bright children have been given poor marks while some of the less able have achieved grades beyond their teachers' dreams. Below, we print the protest of one English teacher who says the results are nonsense.

Government exam advisers counter that, so far, they have received only 49 complaints from teachers about whole year groups - about 0.75 per cent of the total. There have been 18 complaints concerning individuals and 19 queries about mark-adding. There have been 354 telephone calls.

For pupils, the results matter. GCSE papers are divided into different levels of difficulty and teachers have to decide which level pupils should enter. Those entering the lower levels cannot be awarded the highest grades. Results of the 14-year-old tests provide an obvious guide.

Last week, the National Association of Advisers in English said it was worried about the "widespread evidence of inconsistent and unreliable results" and that teachers' own assessments might be more reliable. "It is regrettable that reporting the current test results to pupils and parents, while required by law, may cause unnecessary alarm and confusion."

So what has gone wrong? Bethan Marshall, a lecturer in education at King's College, London University, and an advisory teacher in English, says: "The children who have suffered most are the able ones. It is the capacity to surprise in an English exam that would normally win high marks.

"To make these tests objective, the mark schemes have been made very rigid, and some of the markers are inexperienced. So a candidate who has written brilliantly about Tybalt but has not written enough about Romeo and Juliet will be penalised." Equally, she says, "children who can barely read and write are doing quite well because the technique of the comprehension tests is comparatively easy for them".

English teachers say the test results prove their contention that the best way to examine English is through coursework, not formal tests. Anne Barnes, general secretary of the National Association for the Teaching of English, and a experienced examiner, says many inexperienced examiners have been given only one day's training.

"In English, most of the marking depends on the marker's expertise and not on the mark scheme. Examiners need to keep looking back at the examples and not just using the scheme. "It is always difficult to persuade examiners to use the top of the mark scheme because it is human nature to play safe. With inexperienced examiners, the problem is worse."

The association is advising English teachers to appeal against the results. The School Curriculum and Assessment Authority say it is too early to make judgements about the marking. A spokeswoman says: "When the appeals procedure has operated, we shall know how things went. The level of complaint does not indicate anything wrong with the whole system."

Sue Gregory, head of English at the state comprehensive where pupils produced this work (featured right) in their English tests in May, highlights the marking discrepancies.

"On handwriting: one joins letters beautifully; one doesn't join beautifully; one does not join at all.

One has one spelling mistake. One has seven spelling mistakes. One has 12 spelling mistakes.

Yet for spelling and hand-writing, all three of them got 3/5.

Written expression - judge for yourself. Somewhat discrepant? They all rate the same!

As for understanding and response, the one who wrote sense - elegantly, too, if sometimes misguidedly - rates least. The one that wrote: `When he meet Juliet he becomes very clever when he kissed her', rates highest.

This is the marking that we were promised would be delivered by professionals carefully trained for the task - marking that would be carefully checked and moderated.

We cannot give them credence. They have exposed the marking of these tests for what it is - a farce that amounts to a national scandal. Standards? We'd like to see a few!"

All three pupils were awarded level 5 in the English test - the average expected of 14-year-olds.

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