Magazine article The Spectator

Marking Sats Has Always Been a Total Fiasco

Magazine article The Spectator

Marking Sats Has Always Been a Total Fiasco

Article excerpt

The Sats disaster is depressing, but I'm afraid that as someone who's marked them for ten years, it's not altogether surprising. In the early days of the National Curriculum tests -- the Sats -- I was a Key Stage 2 Science marker, sworn to Masonic-like secrecy about this mysterious testing process. In my innocence I had expected it to be a straightforward procedure, but I hadn't allowed for the serial incompetence, the human error, the vagaries of postal deliveries, and most important: the political pressure.

Several times my expected parcels of scripts were initially sent to another marker by mistake, and I received scripts for the wrong subject; scripts of pupils would routinely be missing without explanation, requiring query letters and a wait for a response -- all of which delayed the process. We markers came to accept such things as the norm, including the frequent change of the official organisation charged with overall responsibility for the marking process (each time with the empty promise that things would be so much more efficient under the new body).

The marking process itself was also dictated by idiotic rules, designed to help children scrape through. In some questions, for example, the pupil was instructed to tick the correct answer. But if (in the absence of a tick) the child put any mark against the correct answer -- even a tiny blob because he held his pen there for a moment before giving up and moving on to the next question -- he was given the point. And if the child wrote the correct answer, but then, on second thoughts, decided it was wrong and crossed it out, the crossing-out still gained the mark. On one paper this was carried to ludicrous extremes. A child had written an answer in pencil but then rubbed it out so I had not awarded any mark. My supervisor, however, insisted that because the slight imprint of the erased answer suggested it had been correct, I must award the point.

Correct spelling was completely irrelevant -- to the point of absurdity.

I remember one question required the one-word answer 'air'. But markers were instructed that even words such as 'her' must be accepted as worthy of the mark.

'Well, ' argued one senior examiner, 'the child might speak with a Liverpudlian accent.' There were also occasions when we had to mark incorrect science as correct. …

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