Teachers’ unions have welcomed the Minister for Education’s decision to shelve controversial plans for teachers to assess their own students for the Leaving Cert exams as a “sensible” move.
Norma Foley’s original plans announced last year envisaged that 40 per cent of students’ marks for all exams would be based on project work, oral exams or practicals that would be marked by teachers.
In a change announced on Wednesday, she said this work will be assessed externally by the State Examinations Commission rather than teachers.
Ms Foley said she was taking the step in order to study the impact of artificial intelligence on the assessment process.
Teachers’ Union of Ireland (TUI) general secretary Michael Gillespie said the development was welcome news.
“Our clear and unambiguous position has always been that State certification is key to all developments and must be retained,” he said.
“TUI members have always been fundamentally opposed to assessing their own students for State certificate purposes and therefore external assessment and State certification – which retain significant public trust – are essential for all written examinations and all additional components of assessment.”
Mr Gillespie said teachers were always in favour of “positive, coherently-devised change that enhances the education service”.
The Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) said Ms Foley’s revised proposals were “inevitable”.
ASTI president Geraldine O’Brien, said the union had expressed its “serious concern” to the Minister over her reform plans.
“The ASTI also emphasised to the Minister the need to protect the integrity of the Leaving Cert and to ensure assessment of students for State certification purposes is based on fairness for all students and trust in exams system,” she said. “Today’s announcement by the Minister validates these concerns.”
Prof Anne Looney, executive dean of DCU’s Institute of Education, said many reform proposals over the years have sought to move away from a high-stakes exam system which has been “hard-wired” into our education system. In some ways, she said, the deferral plans were “no surprise”.
“We have form in Ireland in moving on ‘bits’ of a coherent plan, generating a lot of activity, but no real change in the student or teacher experience,” she said.
However, she said the “deferral” could also allow the Irish education system to engage with the global debate and emerging research on the impact of AI on assessment and examinations and “build assessment for this brave new world”.
“Ireland joins from a different starting point but will find, if the early trends are anything to go by, that teacher assessment practice is at the heart of most considered responses,” she said.
Prof Michael Madden, head of the school of computer science at University of Galway, noted that at third level there were robust processes to ensure fairness in teacher-assessed grading such as detailed marking rubrics, anonymous grading, second markers, external examiners and appeals processes.
“There is now a risk that generative AI will be used as a scapegoat to cancel plans for continuous assessments, despite the widely acknowledged limitations of the traditional Leaving Cert final exams,” he said.
“This would be unfortunate, since strategies are being identified and implemented across universities to defend against inappropriate use of generative AI, such as those in the guidelines from the National Academic Integrity Network.”
He said it was important that we are careful to assess the risks associated with generative AI and consider how to incorporate responsible use of AI tools into teaching and learning to prepare students for the “21st century, and not just revert to 19th century assessment practices”.