Leaving Cert grades face radical change under plan

Eight-band grading system due to replace 14-band system by summer 2017

Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn: “For the first time we see the concerns around the high-stakes nature of the points system and the Leaving Certificate being addressed in a coherent way across both second and third level.” Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn: “For the first time we see the concerns around the high-stakes nature of the points system and the Leaving Certificate being addressed in a coherent way across both second and third level.” Photograph: Cyril Byrne/The Irish Times

Mon, Apr 21, 2014, 01:11

Leaving Certificate students are facing a new grading system for exams aimed at reducing the culture of “teaching to the test” and rote learning in secondary schools.

An expert steering group on reforming the “transition” between second and third levels has called for an end to the 14-band grading system (A1, A2, B1, B2, etc.) which awards points for every 5 per cent in each exam. Instead, it recommends an eight-band system, to be first used for the Leaving Cert in June 2017.

Under the scale, scores between 90 and 100 will receive a grade H1 for higher papers and O1 for ordinary papers; 80-89 H2/O2; 70-79 H3/O3; 60-69 H4/O4; 50-59 H5/O5; 40-49 H6/O6; 30-39 H7/O7; and 0-29 H8/O8. An interim report by the group out today says the change is “in response to concerns that the use of narrow bands puts pressure on students to achieve marginal gains in examination performance and as a consequence focuses excessive attention on the detail of the assessment process rather than the achievement of broader learning objectives”.


Grade bands
It notes Ireland’s high number of bands – 28 for ordinary and higher level combined – is “unique internationally”. It was introduced in 1992 at the request of higher education institutions amid concerns at the increased use of random selection in admissions.

While the reform will inevitably result in a higher number of college places allocated by lottery, the export group stresses that the Leaving Cert should not be seen solely as a selection tool for higher education. The steering group, comprising education stakeholders and governing agencies, is also trying to promote broader entry routes to third level amid concerns that the explosion in increasingly specialised course options over the past decade has escalated the points race.


Universities
The group says universities have committed to ensuring the number of undergraduate courses offered in 2015 is reduced to the number available in 2011. Both universities and Institutes of Technology are also “intensively reviewing their programme portfolios to reduce the complexity of choice and to ensure broader entry programmes into higher education”, the report says.

The group, set up a year ago by Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn, has also been examining the extent of problematic predictability in the Leaving Cert exams whereby teachers and students can second- guess papers. The Oxford University Centre for Educational Assessment was commissioned to assess the problem. It indicated “that no subject was considered to be very problematically predictable overall” although some concerns were identified.

The State Examinations Commission and the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment say they plan to act on its recommendations.

Mr Quinn, who will be attending teacher union conferences this week, welcomed the findings: “For the first time we see the concerns around the high-stakes nature of the points system and the Leaving Certificate being addressed in a coherent way across both second and third level.” He said an implementation plan bringing together all elements of reform will be finalised by the end of the year, with phased changes planned for students entering fifth year in 2015.