Study into impact of bonus for Irish on CAO points questions fairness

Students who answer Leaving Cert exams in Irish can receive bonus of up to 10 per cent

A State Examinations Commission report found the bonus scheme delivered an average CAO bonus of 12 points, though in some cases it was as high as 30-35 points

A State Examinations Commission report found the bonus scheme delivered an average CAO bonus of 12 points, though in some cases it was as high as 30-35 points

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An unpublished study on the impact of bonus points for students who answer the Leaving Cert through Irish has questioned the fairness of the measure.

Under rules that date back to the mid-1920s, any student who answers a written exam in Irish may receive bonus marks of up to 10 per cent, depending on the subject.

A State Examinations Commission (SEC) report examined the impact of this on more than 120 students who completed their exams in Irish across two unnamed all-Irish schools.

It found the bonus scheme delivered an average CAO bonus of 12 points, though in some cases it was as high as 30-35 points.

Students who scored high CAO points benefitted the most. For example, the bonus allowed students who scored between 500 and 600 points overtake about 20 per cent of other students who scored above them.

A commentary accompanying the report states that it is not possible to determine whether students who completed their exams in Irish would have performed better if they answered them in English.

“While we can assume that all of these candidates are very good at Irish, the great majority are not native speakers. They might therefore have done better (exclusive of the bonus) had they both studied the subject and been examined in it through English,” the report states.

“If one takes this view, the effect of the bonus scheme is to partially or fully rectify a cause of unfairness. If one does not, then the effect is to create an unfair advantage.”

Scheme rules

Under Irish bonus scheme rules, students who answer written exams in Irish may receive bonus marks of up to 10 per cent for subjects such as history, geography, physics, chemistry and biology.

The bonus marks are lower – 5 per cent – for subjects where there is less reliance on Irish, such as foreign languages, maths, accounting and engineering.

Irish and English are excluded from the bonus scheme.

The full bonus only applies if the student has obtained less than 75 per cent in their exam.

Above this point, the bonus applies on a sliding scale to the point where a student who scores 100 per cent gets no bonus.

The SEC report also found that the way students benefit from the Irish bonus is “erratic” due to the way the grading process works by disproportionately benefitting more students over others.

For example, it points out that it is possible for the Irish bonus to cause an upgrade from an E to a D3 in a higher-level subject, which would yield 45 points, or 70 points in the case of higher maths.

It says changes should be considered so there is a more even distribution of the benefit.

“Decisions over the future of the bonus points scheme do not simply come down to whether to abolish it or not,” it states.

“The scheme has been amended in its manner of application on a number of occasions through its history. There is no reason why it cannot be amended again if there is agreement that there is a fairer way for it to operate.”

Anomalies

In response to queries from The Irish Times, the State Examinations Commission said some of the anomalies highlighted in its report no longer arise due to grading changes introduced in 2017.

These changes – which replaced As, Bs and Cs with wider grade bands such as H1s and H2s – followed recommendations from a group led by the Department of Education which included education partners such as higher education institutions.

This same group decided not to make any recommendation in relation to the Irish bonus scheme when making the grading changes in 2017.

“The SEC continues to implement the Irish bonus scheme in accordance with Government policy,” it said.