National tests for 14-year-olds 'disastrous'

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The Independent Online
FOURTEEN-YEAR-OLDS will be asked to match quotations to pictures of scenes from Shakespeare in national tests in English to be taken this June. Then they will be asked to put the pictures in the order they appear in the play and to explain the importance of the quotations.

English teachers said the sample questions, released yesterday by the Government's advisers on exams, were 'disastrous' and unfair to children. They also attacked sample questions on the English anthology, which includes extracts from books and poems, as too 'bitty' to allow children to show what they can do.

In questions on an extract called 'Village School' from Laurie Lee's Cider with Rosie, children of average ability are asked to write out the words which suggest that the children in the piece did not learn very much (one mark) and to give their impressions of the 16- year-old teacher (two marks). For seven marks they are asked to use an extract from David Copperfield to say what David thinks of his father-to-be, Mr Murdstone.

Pupils will also do an unseen reading comprehension. Ten short questions are set on the sample passage which is by Christy Brown, the disabled writer. Pupils are asked, for example, to write out two images to describe how lonely he felt.

In another paper to test writing, spelling and handwriting, candidates have to write a letter to a wheelchair users' association suggesting how their school could be made more open to people in wheelchairs.

Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach, chairman of the School Examinations and Assessment Council, told a conference in Birmingham yesterday: 'The tests have been developed so that they are reliable, assess what they set out to assess and are manageable for those who have to administer them.'

Anne Barnes of the National Association for the Teaching of English said the tests would encourage neither interesting thoughts nor coherent views.

'It is the Mastermind mentality of the sort which has developed in the popular media: the idea that to score in a quiz is something intelligent.'

She said children might legitimately make mistakes in the Shakespeare questions because they had misunderstood the pictures, 'a skill which has nothing to do with reading comprehension'.

For the unseen comprehension, Lord Griffiths said pupils would be required to make deductions and understand the writer's intention.

In Shakespeare they would be assessed on their understanding of the play as drama; they need not memorise long passages.

Some teachers and governors are considering a boycott of the tests, which have been developed by the University of Cambridge's Local Examinations Syndicate. Teachers say they have not had enough time to prepare and that the tests will not give a fair picture of pupils' abilities.