Testing counters errors in grading

October 25, 2002

Southampton University has tested first-year language students who studied under the new AS/A-level regime to be sure of their abilities.

Clare Mar-Molinero, head of modern languages, said the week-long diagnostic tests that her school introduced four years ago meant the A-level regrading fiasco had not caused a problem. She said that her department "got students sussed anyway".

Language student Sarah Hawkins accepted Southampton's "insurance offer" to study French and philosophy when she did not get the grade B she needed for her first choice, Sheffield University. Three weeks into her course at Southampton, she is happy to stay where she is.

Southampton streams all language students, independent of year group, in stages from one to seven. Students with A/B grades at A level are generally banded at stage four, while those with AS levels and C/D/E at A level are put at stage three.

Dr Mar-Molinero said: "A levels in the past proved an accurate guide, and we had little movement between stages. But this year we noticed more students in stage three whose diagnostic testing showed that they were much better, so we moved them up. I suppose our experience proved the need for A-level regrading."

Leeds University's School of Languages was persuaded to look at students "in a broader context" after the institution's admissions officers commented about Curriculum 2000.

Rachel Killick, head of languages, said that her school had looked closely at students' AS levels in making offers.

She said: "If students had something in the bag, we were more inclined to make offers. Our sense was that students had been through a series of new exams and some had to do other things, like key skills."

Ms Killick added: "From the outset, we were facing students with a different subject array. We expected problems in courses new to teachers and students."

Ms Killick said her school had recruited strongly this year.

Richard Skerrett, curriculum and development officer at the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service, said language schools seemed to be exercising more flexibility in making offers.

He said that applications for language studies rose by 1.8 per cent this year but the number accepted on confirmation of A levels rose by 3.7 per cent. Acceptances at clearing were down 8.2 per cent.

Mr Skerrett said that the most serious problem for languages was that AS-level grades were not necessarily translating into A-level grades.

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