Number set for higher maths near record level
THE NUMBER of students registered to take higher-level maths in the Leaving Certificate has surged to a near record level.
New figures show the decision to award bonus CAO points for higher-level maths is paying dividends – almost 13,000 have registered to sit the exam next week, the highest figure in two decades.
Beginning this year, a bonus of 25 points will be allocated to students who achieve a grade D3 or above in higher-level maths. The bonus points scheme will operate for a four-year trial period.
Last year only 10,400 registered to take the subject at higher level in the Leaving Cert, the lowest figure recorded by the State Exams Commission.
The dramatic turnaround comes after a collective effort by government, business and teachers to address the issue. The Government hopes the bonus points and the new more user-friendly Project Maths course will boost student interest in maths.
The expectation is that about 20 per cent of those registered to sit higher-level maths this year will drop to ordinary level when the subject is examined on Friday week next; this is the well-established pattern for maths.
Even so, Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn will be pleased with the expected 20 per cent-plus increase in take-up for maths at higher level. In all, 12,900 have registered to sit the exam this year compared to 10,435 last year. In 2011 more than 8,200 actually sat the exam; this number is expected to reach 10,000 this year.
Despite the encouraging new trends, only about 18 per cent of Leaving Cert maths students will sit the higher-level exam this year – by far the lowest figure for any subject. Last year, by contrast, 64 per cent of students taking English sat at higher level, while 77 per cent taking geography sat at higher level.
About 20 per cent of students who registered to sit higher-level maths in the Leaving Cert dropped to ordinary level last year. This reflected concern they would fail the exam, making them ineligible for many CAO courses. Last year more than 4,300 students failed maths at higher, ordinary and foundation levels. Students have also been reluctant to take higher-level maths because it is seen as tougher and more time-consuming than other subjects.
Overall, ordinary-level maths remains the single biggest exam in the Leaving Cert, attracting more than 36,000 students. A further 2,600 students will sit the foundation-level paper.
The latest trends for higher-level maths come amid increasing concern about overall standards in maths. In international Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development rankings, the performance of Irish teenagers in maths has fallen from 16th to 26th place – the second steepest decline among participating countries. Ireland is now ranked as below average in maths.
The Government hopes Project Maths – due to be rolled out fully in every school from 2014 – will help build student interest in the subject. Critics claim the exam is a “dumbed down’’ version of the current higher-level programme.