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NAHT warns testing culture must change as students are marked down for the shape of semi-colons

Teachers across the country are outraged as students are marked down for the size and shape of their semi colons.

Widely covered in the press this morning, Russell Hobby, spoke out publicly about the current ‘catching out’ of students when it comes to assessment. “We now operate within a testing culture which appears focused on catching young children out rather than recording their achievements. Such a culture will swiftly erode the confidence of parents and teachers that the system is operating in the best interests of pupils. The stakes are so high that we seem unable to apply reasonable common sense.”

Director of middle leaders’ union NAHT Edge, James Bowen, remarked on the importance of moving towards a common sense approach. “Recent issues highlighted with this year’s key stage 2 SPaG test show the need for a more common sense approach to marking. The mark scheme for the test, published by STA, seems to take a sensible approach to the marking of punctuation. However, it seems that a more punitive approach has been taken as a result of additional guidance that was given to markers. A testing culture which appears focused on catching young children out rather than recording their achievements is not constructive and given all the hard work put in by pupils, teachers and school leaders, anything that undermines confidence is a significant cause for concern.”

With a wave of public outrage breaking over this year’s assessment, our concerns have been widely circulated in the press with coverage in the BBCGuardianMirror and MailOnline

NAHT raises these concerns to STA and Ofqual 

NAHT has alerted the Standards and Testing Agency (STA) to our members concerns, particularly regarding children who have not been awarded marks due to the formation of a punctuation mark. 

The STA mark scheme which is published and available to all schools is sensible in its approach to the marking of punctuation. It advises markers to accept correctly formed punctuation that is clear, unambiguous and recognisable as the required punctuation mark. It states that markers should not accept punctuation that is ambiguous, for example, if it is unclear whether the mark is a comma or full stop, or incorrectly formed punctuation marks, such as an inverted question mark.
The problem seems to have arisen via the confidential marker training material which gives additional information and instructions about punctuation. The interpretation of this by some markers means that imperfect formation such as the dot of the semi colon being above the level of the letters of the word, are being marked incorrect. This is not equal to the error of an inverted question mark which is given as the example in the mark scheme and this approach goes against the spirit of the words in the STA mark scheme.

STA advice to schools is that if they think there is a discrepancy between the marking of a question and the published mark scheme that they should submit a review. The application window for reviews closes this Friday. However, there are significant  issues with this. Reviews can be submitted only where there would be three raw score marks difference, or where a change in the raw mark would mean a child would meet or not meet the expected standard of 100 – in many of the cases where schools believe there is a marking discrepancy it is of only one or two marks and this does not meet the criteria for a review. The review would not be considered successful and the school would be charged for the review. This means that these 1 or 2 mark errors will not be reviewed, corrected or appear on the statistics for marking reviews. 

NAHT has also highlighted these issues to Ofqual and is meeting with their Director of National Assessments next week to discuss all of the issues and concerns we have had from members about this year's SATs.

Support for school leaders 

If you would like any further information, advice or guidance, please contact the NAHT Advice Centre on 0300 30 30 333 – option 1 where a member of the team will be happy to help you or to book an appointment with one of our Specialist Advisers at the earliest convenience.
First published 15 December 2017