Standards & Testing Agency
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Research into the quality of test marking

The Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) published a report recently on marking quality in national curriculum tests. The report draws upon a number of studies, including an analysis of 2008 quality assurance data carried out by independent researchers.

The findings of all of the work carried out by QCA over the last three years suggest that there are high levels of accuracy in maths, science and short English questions. Other English test questions require an extended narrative response, rather than a right or wrong answer, so markers have to exercise their professional judgement to a greater extent. The range of divergence between different markers will be greater as a result, in line with findings from other national and international studies.

The independent analysis from 2008 does not give a direct indication of the quality of test marking nationally as it was based on a small sample of papers marked as part of the quality assurance process rather than part of the live marking process, or a specifically designed study. However, it concluded that the findings did not give particular cause for concern in relation to marking quality in national curriculum tests in 2008.

Andrew Hall, acting chief executive of QCA, said:

"QCA is taking a lead in investigating and reporting on issues around the quality of marking and is committed to making continuous improvements.

Further improvements can be made to marking quality through the introduction of on-screen marking, which allows for more frequent and robust assurance checks to be carried out during the marking process and for some scripts to be double marked. The move towards on-screen marking was one of the recommendations of Lord Sutherland's report into national curriculum tests and QCA fully supports this view. Progress is already being made and on-screen marking is currently being used for the single level tests that QCA is developing as part of the DCSF Making Good Progress pilot.

"At QCA, we are committed to ensuring that the best possible standards are maintained in the current marking process and that new processes are thoroughly tested. Should current on-screen marking pilots prove successful, we will be looking to introduce it for statutory tests as soon as possible."

The QCA report into marking quality confirms that there are robust processes in place to ensure accuracy and agreement in test results. Markers form a dedicated body of professionals, for the most part practising teachers or those who have recently left the profession, with a specialism in their subject. They undergo rigorous training as well as regular monitoring.

The national curriculum test system has always included a review process as an integral part of quality assurance. This allows teachers to query any unexpected outcomes on behalf of students, resulting in a full review of the test paper in question.

Notes to Editors

1. QCA's report 'Research into marking quality: studies to inform future work on national curriculum assessments' and the University of Bristol research 'Marking reliability of the 2008 national curriculum tests' are published on the QCA website at

2. Also published on QCA's website are two statistical reports on the 2008 test cycle: '2008 national curriculum tests review outcomes (provisional)' ( and 'National curriculum assessments: 2008 maladministration report' (

3. For further information, contact the QCA press office on 020 7509 6789 or, outside office hours, 07827 879263. Members of the public should call the QCA enquiry line on 020 7509 5556.

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