Give Me a Crash Course In . . . Leaving Certificate points reform

New grades: The A1, A2 system is being replaced by marks from H1 to H8 at higher level and from O1 to O8 at ordinary. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

New grades: The A1, A2 system is being replaced by marks from H1 to H8 at higher level and from O1 to O8 at ordinary. Photograph: Bryan O’Brien

 

Pencils sharpened. Time started. You may now turn over your paper.

SECTION I: COMPREHENDING

Question A: How many grading bands will the Leaving Certificate have in 2017? Eight at each level (higher and ordinary). This is down from the current 14. Grades will go up in 10-per-cent bands rather than 5-per-cent bands. The A1, A2 system is being replaced by grades from H1 to H8 at higher level and from O1 to O8 at ordinary.

Question B: Is that the only reform announced this week? No, the new Leaving Cert bands are being introduced with a new points system for college entry under the Central Applications Office (CAO). The main innovation is the awarding of points for marks of 30-39 per cent in higher-level papers. Currently, this is treated as an E and receives no CAO points. In future it will categorised as a H7 and will receive roughly the same points as a grade C at ordinary level.

Question C: So will students get marks for a “fail”?Ah, that’s very emotive language. The notion of failure is something educationalists try to avoid nowadays. As Minister for Education Jan O’Sullivan says, “All examination results are a measure of a level of achievement.”

Question D: Does this apply to all higher-level papers? Yes. The initiative is particularly focused at maths, to combat the phenomenon of students dropping down to the ordinary paper on the day of the exam, but it will apply across the board. It seeks to incentivise students to aim higher by reducing the penalty for just missing out on 40 per cent. Students should bear in mind, though, that under the current plan a H7 in maths will not attract bonus points but anything from a H1 to a H6 in the subject will continue to do so.

SECTION II: STILL COMPREHENDING

Question E: How will the new Leaving Cert grades translate into CAO points? The final details will be announced in September, but the Department of Education has published a sample conversion chart to illustrate what’s in store. In this indicative model, CAO points no longer jump up in margins of five and 10 points but instead go up by a variety of margins, from eight to 15, loading points in favour of the highest grades.

Question F: What’s the logic of that? The idea is to reduce the number of college places decided by random selection. Every year about 1.5 per cent of candidates find themselves on a cut-off point for courses, which means they go into a lottery to decide who gets the final places. Under the current system about 460 students out of the 60,000 CAO applicants to universities each year are denied a place because of random selection. It was estimated that were the Leaving Cert grades to change but the CAO points system remain the same this would rise to 2,700 students. The new, “nonlinear” CAO points scale will mean that about 490 students are excluded because of random selection but that this should be further reduced to 200 or 300 students with proper management by admissions officers, according to the Irish Universities Association.

Question G: So will it relieve pressure on students? Perhaps a little. Plans by the universities to introduce broader college-entry routes would help, too. But it’s a lot less radical than leading educationalists had been advocating. Some countries have moved away from a high-stakes terminal exam at secondary level, because it crowds out other forms of teaching and learning, but there seems to be no appetite here for such a change.

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