New grading system sees dramatic drop in failure rates

Leaving Cert 2017: Authorities deny higher level exams are being ‘dumbed down’

The State Examinations Commission insists there has been no change in the exam standards of the Leaving Cert. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

The State Examinations Commission insists there has been no change in the exam standards of the Leaving Cert. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

 

Failure rates among students sitting higher level Leaving Cert subjects have dropped dramatically as thousands of candidates benefit from a more generous grading system.

Some 58,000 students will receive their results on Wednesday, though those who applied for college will not know whether they have secured their first choice places until next Monday when offers through the CAO (Central Applications Office) are made.

Under a new grading system designed to reduce pressure on students at exam time, candidates who score between 30 and 39 per cent – previously known as an E grade – are eligible for CAO points.

The impact of the changes has been dramatic, with failure rates for key Leaving Cert subjects at higher level dropping by about half.

In addition, the number of students opting for higher level papers across all subjects has climbed to a new high.

High achievers

The number of high achievers scoring straight A1s – or grade ones under the new system – has also increased significantly. A total of 13 students scored eight grade ones (between 90 and 100 per cent) at higher level, compared to seven last year.

The upward trends are likely to spark accusations that the system has been “dumbed down”, especially given concerns in universities over the volume of students struggling with maths and literacy.

However, the State Examinations Commission insists there has been no change in the exam standards of the Leaving Cert. Rather, it says the change relates to how candidates’ results are reported to them through the new grading system.

The focus on higher level masks the fact that the latest figures show many students at ordinary level are struggling, with failure rates up significantly in key subjects. At ordinary level maths, for example, the proportion failing to get any CAO points reached 10 per cent.

Some of the most dramatic increases in the proportion of students failing to secure CAO points for ordinary level subjects were English and Irish.