Students back junior cycle reforms but fear 'bias'

Most student ‘very positive’ about continuous assessment plan

The students expressed broad approval for Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn’s plan to replace the Junior Cert exam with a programme of continuous assessment. Photograph: Alan Betson

The students expressed broad approval for Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn’s plan to replace the Junior Cert exam with a programme of continuous assessment. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

Fears that the integrity of the new junior cycle award will be corrupted by teacher “bias” have been expressed by students who gathered yesterday to give their views on the initiative.

The students, who were taking part in a Trinity College Dublin research project which involves stakeholders from the sector, expressed broad approval for Minister for Education Ruairi Quinn’s plan to replace the Junior Cert exam with a programme of continuous assessment.

However, they said procedures needed to be put in place to guard against teachers coming under undue pressure from parents when making assessments.

Darren May (12), a student at Pobalscoil Iosolde in Palmerstown, said his classmates were currently preparing for first-year exams and “a lot of them are unhappy we don’t have continuous assessment” as it would be much less stressful.

But he also saw problems with teachers marking their own students.

Real risk Robert O’Donnell (17), deputy president of the Irish Second-Level Students’ Union, said teacher bias was a real risk but it shouldn’t be used as a reason to block the reforms.

“If a teacher doesn’t like a student, well that’s tough, they still have to give them a comment and explain why they didn’t achieve or get the merit,” he said.

The pair were among more than 30 students participating in the Research in School Education (Rise) project, which is aimed at ensuring “student voice” is represented in policymaking.

Dr Paula Flynn of the TCD school of education, which is co-ordinating the project, said the students’ views would be incorporated in a report that would be presented to the Department of Education after the summer.

Students suggested a number of solutions to their worries, including teachers swapping classes for assessments and spot-checking to ensure consistency in marking.

Representatives from the department, other State agencies and the teacher unions who participated “were taken aback by the insights of the students and the way they were not just looking at the problems but also solutions,” said Dr Flynn.