Assessing the Junior Cycle
Sir, – On December 2nd, we are being asked by our union to go on strike relating to something that we are already practicing in our school. St Joseph’s College, Lucan, is a pilot school for the Junior Cycle. Over the past three years we have not only changed our approach to student learning but also introduced ongoing assessment for students at Junior and Leaving Certificate levels. If I were to assess the new changes according to the way we give feedback to our students, I would say “Two Stars and a Wish”.
Star one: Ongoing assessment gives immediate positive feedback to students in September and throughout the term. The teacher can assess the learning and any student who is struggling with learning can be helped. Confidence grows and the outlook of the student improves.
Star two: Students must be responsible for their learning – they learn about deadlines, drafting and redrafting and self-evaluation. Students are so engaged in learning that discipline problems no longer feature.
Wish: Teachers need more time to collaborate on assessment and the work that this involves. The day of taking a bundle of exams home to correct by yourself has now passed.
I trust teachers assessing the students; the students trust their teachers. The parents have faith in the teachers; teachers are professional and expert. We also trust the State Examinations Commission, which will monitor this assessment. We have waited for decades for change in assessment. Should memory be the only skill we continue to value in our students? – Yours, etc,
St Joseph’s College,
Lucan, Co Dublin.
Sir, – All that teachers seek, within the complex set of relationships which frames their professional lives, is the gold standard of external assessment which removes even the slightest risk of their being suspected of conferring any unfair advantage or disadvantage on any student at an important moment in their life. – Yours, etc,
Donabate, Co Dublin.
Sir, – We wish to make it clear that while the second-level teacher unions are seeking to maintain State certification and external assessment, we are in favour of changes to enhance the Junior Cycle and support the introduction of new forms of assessment, as long as these assessment components are externally marked.
We agree with the Minister for Education and Skills that project work, portfolio work, practical work and other methods of evaluating student learning are vital elements of a modern assessment system. We also agree that broadening assessment in this way may help to reduce the pressure associated with having only a terminal written exam. However, in order to maintain the integrity of our State certificate, we believe all State exams, whether written or practical, should be externally assessed.
Forcing teachers to grade their own students for State certification will have a negative impact on the student-teacher relationship and will lead to inconsistencies between schools, thereby undermining educational standards nationally.
Currently, a number of Junior Certificate subjects have practical exam components that are externally assessed. For example, the Junior Cert science exam contains a significant practical element which is externally assessed. Other subjects such as CSPE (Civic, Social and Political Education), home economics, music and art also include significant practical elements which are externally assessed. This means that students’ work in these exams is subjected to a rigorous and standardised external assessment process overseen by the State Examinations Commission which ensures consistency, fairness and objectivity for every student.
Just like parents and students, teachers want an improved education experience for our Junior Cycle students. However, teachers are deeply concerned about the negative impact of the Minister’s current proposals. Such far-reaching change cannot be easily undone, so we must get it right from the start. We regret that we must resort to strike action in order to stand up for education. However, we have exhausted all other avenues to date.
We believe a solution exists which meets the need for improvement of the Junior Cycle, but which protects education standards, is student-centred, and which does not undermine the integrity of our State exams system. – Yours, etc,
Thomas McDonagh House,
Orwell Road,Dublin 6.