Tuesday, July 01, 2008

British markers award students for writing obscenities on examination papers

How low Britain has sunk: Write `f*** off' on a GCSE paper and you'll get 7.5%. Add an exclamation mark and it'll go up to 11%

Pupils are being rewarded for writing obscenities in their GCSE English examinations even when it has nothing to do with the question. One pupil who wrote "f*** off" was given marks for accurate spelling and conveying a meaning successfully. His paper was marked by Peter Buckroyd, a chief examiner who has instructed fellow examiners to mark in the same way. He told trainee examiners recently to adhere strictly to the mark scheme, to the extent that pupils who wrote only expletives on their papers should be awarded points.

Mr Buckroyd, chief examiner of English for the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance (AQA), an examination board, said that he had given the pupil two marks, out of a possible 27, for the expletive.

To gain minimum marks in English, students must demonstrate "some simple sequencing of ideas" and "some words in appropriate order". The phrase had achieved this, according to Mr Buckroyd.

The chief examiner, who is responsible for standards in exams taken by 780,000 candidates and for training for 3,000 examiners, told The Times: "It would be wicked to give it zero, because it does show some very basic skills we are looking for - like conveying some meaning and some spelling. "It's better than someone that doesn't write anything at all. It shows more skills than somebody who leaves the page blank."

Mr Buckroyd says that he uses the example to teach examiners the finer points of marking. "It elucidates some useful points - it shows some nominal skills but no relevance to the task." He also acknowledged that the language was inappropriate - but added that using the construction "different to" would also be inappropriate language.

The choice phrase, given in answer to the question "Describe the room you're sitting in", on a 2006 GCSE paper, was not punctuated. "If it had had an exclamation mark it would have got a little bit more because it would have been showing a little bit of skill," Mr Buckroyd said, "We are trying to give higher marks to the students who show more skills."

The AQA, which as the largest of the three examination boards awards half the full-course GCSEs and 43 per cent of A levels, distanced itself from Mr Buckroyd's comments, saying: "If a candidate's script contains, for example, obscenities, examiners are instructed to contact AQA's offices, which will advise them in accordance with Joint Council for Qualification guidelines. Expletives in a script would either be disregarded, or sanctioned."

Ofqual, the Government's examinations regulator, refused to condemn Mr Buckroyd's approach. "We think it's important that candidates are able to use appropriate language in a variety of situations but it's for awarding bodies to develop their mark scheme and for their markers to award marks in line with that scheme," it said.

Other examining bodies said that their marking schemes would not reward such language. Edexel said: "If the question was `Use a piece of Anglo-Saxon English', they may get a mark, but if they had just written `f*** off', they may get sanctioned. If it was graphic or violent they may get no mark for that paper."

The Joint Council for Qualifications, which represents exam boards, said that examiners were required to report instances of "inappropriate, offensive or obscene material" in exam scripts, and the awarding body must investigate. "If malpractice is identified, the awarding body will decide on the appropriate sanction, which could include loss of marks or even disqualification," a spokesman said.

Nick Gibb, the Shadow Schools Secretary, said of Mr Buckroyd's strategy: "It's taking the desire for uniformity and consistency to absurd lengths."


Schools handing over discipline to the police

Sounds very costly and inefficient but buckpassing is constant these days

Denver Public Schools plans to launch a discipline policy that at least one civic group feels will be too broad and bring unnecessary police involvement. The plan, to be introduced tonight to the school board, includes rules that require authorities to be called for specific student-on-student incidents, including those involving sexual behaviors and witness intimidation. "When you think about its application, we think it's frightening," said Marco Nunez, organizing director for Padres y Jovenes Unidos, a parents advocacy group in northwest Denver. "We are advocating there should be a common-sense approach. Calling the police and mandatory reporting should not be the default position."

Last year a middle school principal was taken to court for failing to immediately report a student-on-student incident to authorities. Nicole Veltze, the principal of Skinner Middle School, says she was following district rules when she meted out punishment for two male students who inappropriately touched a female seventh-grader. Veltze did not notify the authorities immediately, which the district attorney's office said violated state law. Veltze was handed a misdemeanor summons. A judge in May threw out the case.

The school district's proposed policy defines rules for student-on-student incidents, saying authorities must be contacted on specific cases of suspected child abuse, unlawful sexual behavior or contact, and witness intimidation or retaliation. The definitions for what constitutes those types of incidents are too broad and will result in confusion and police being called too often, said Jim Freeman of the Washington, D.C.-based Advancement Project, which has worked with Padres y Jovenes Unidos on the discipline policy. "What they are proposing is to codify the status quo in which all these low-level offenses would be reported to law enforcement," he said. Incidents such as bras being snapped and buttocks being pinched will launch a child's inevitable spiral into the legal system, he said.

Not true, said DPS attorney John Kechriotis. Those types of low-level incidents will not warrant calls to police under the new policy, he said. And if there is any confusion on whether a case is a more serious child-abuse offense, officials from the district attorney's office say they will be available for consultation. "The DA doesn't want to be placed in the position to prosecute a DPS administrator. Neither of us want that type of situation, so we are very much aligned to develop a type of discipline policy to make a Veltze case happening again nearly impossible," Kechriotis said.

In 2003-04, there were 1,399 referrals to law enforcement from the district, Freeman said. In 2006-07, with an emphasis on restorative justice and means of discipline other than calling the police, referrals dropped to 504.

District officials and a representative from Denver's district attorney's office say principals and teachers will be trained on what types of incidents fall under mandatory reporting. "First and foremost, we're concerned about the safety of the students," said Steve Siegel, director of the DA's special program unit. "We are not out looking for an increase in cases. Our approach is not about the numbers, it's about the appropriateness of each circumstance. We're very committed to keep kids out of the criminal justice system."


Australia: Stupid Federal attack on technical colleges

I guess they are not Leftist enough. To attack the most practical part of Australian education is madness

Australian Technical Colleges have urged the Rudd Government to rethink plans to abolish their funding, arguing the states have shown little interest in supporting an apprenticeship program devised by the former Howard government. The colleges claim their model of delivering apprenticeship training to students is more efficient than the federal Government's replacement scheme in which secondary schools can apply for funding to offer their own training centres.

"Our preference would be to remain funded at a commonwealth level because the state response has been less than desired," Nigel Hill, chairman of the Australian Technical College Association told The Australian.

At a time when 40 per cent of first-year trade apprentices are dropping out and exacerbating skills shortages, the Rudd Government has allocated $2.5billion over 10 years for schools to establish trade training centres. The Government is also spending $1.9billion over five years to provide 630,000 new training places, including 85,000 apprenticeships.

But Mr Hill believes the approach of the colleges in attracting students while they are still in school and having them work closely with industry is the key to improving retention rates. An example is the ATC at Sunshine in Melbourne's west, whose chairman Barry McCarthy is also the manager of car giant Toyota's training and development planning centre. Enrolments at Sunshine have this year doubled to 120. "We think this is a good model going forward, but we need to ensure that industry connection," he said.

About 3000 school students are enrolled in the technical colleges, federal funding for which will cease at the end of 2009. The Government is working to integrate the colleges on a case-by-case basis into the existing training education system, which is largely a state responsibility.


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