Getting results from the Leaving Cert
Sir, – As the Leaving Certificate results are announced I am asking that the media would refrain from referring to “failure rates” in mathematics – and in any other subject – for the following reasons:
1. It is impossible to “fail” maths or any other Irish State exam subject. Failure was abolished 30 years ago by the Department of Education. Grades E and F and even “NG” are not fail grades, although they continue to be referred to in that way in the media, and in urban myth.
2. A public misconception that failure is a real category is driven each year principally by broadcast and newsprint media. The public mind can be changed in this regard if media personnel will undertake not to refer to the concept of failing exam subjects.
3. “Failure” is a derogatory term. Young people at 18-19 years of age should not be stigmatised with failure, especially so when they have not failed anything. Such a stigma may lead to depression, lack of self-esteem and in the worst case, suicide. For those who accept the branding of “failure” it may last with them through life.
4. It is sometimes wrongly stated that if a student gets less than a D3 in mathematics he or she will be barred from entry into third level education. Education correspondents could publish a list of all the third-level courses in Ireland that have no mathematics entry requirement. This would go some way towards assuaging the sense of worthlessness of students who do not score highly in mathematics and who have been conditioned to think of an E or F grade as failure.
5. There is an unwillingness by commentators on Leaving Certificate mathematics results to compare ability at mathematics, a natural and normal human characteristic, with the normal probability distribution.
In any human characteristic graded on a scale of 0 to 100, 25 per cent of the population will have an ability of 40 or less, ie will fall into the grades E, F and “NG” used by the Department of Education. Thus the annual media representation of 10 per cent of the annual Leaving Cert ordinary level mathematics class scoring less than 40 per cent as a national crisis in mathematics education is a distortion. In fact, 10 per cent of students scoring below the 40 per cent mark is well above normal human performance.
This year the process of making the cultural change needed to lead the public to a better understanding of students’ performances can begin with an appreciation of young people’s inherent natural differences.
There needs to be an acceptance of the mathematical strengths and weaknesses present in every cohort of 54,000 young people, and a need to publicise the third-level options open to those who score less than 40 per cent in mathematics. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – Now dat Project Maths has bin such a triumf, cud we hav a stab at Project English nxt yr? Plz? Tnx. – Yours, etc,
Sir, – The new mathematics curriculum, Project Maths, requires, among other skills, a greater understanding of statistics and their interpretation in real-life contexts. Let’s put these skills to use by analysing the first batch of Project Maths higher level results. Your paper reports a staggering 37 per cent increase (from 16 per cent to 22 per cent) in the numbers sitting higher level maths this year compared to last. Now if the new syllabus is of the same difficulty, one would expect the rate of failure to remain roughly the same. Instead, the rate dramatically fell 23 per cent (from 3 per cent down to 2.3 per cent).