School-based assessment


Sir, – In his opinion column of September 12th, Fintan O’Toole stated that there is “no utopian replacement to the Leaving Certificate”, and dismisses school-based assessment as a credible alternative approach. This view is odd, to say the least.

Structures are already in place. School-based assessment is used in the new Junior Cert cycle, in both the Leaving Certificate Vocational and Leaving Certificate Applied, and in the very vibrant and successful post-Leaving Certificate courses. This type of assessment also forms in the basis of all higher education.

The problem appears to be a misunderstanding. In no system, either at home or abroad, does school-based assessment involve teachers simply awarding grades purely as a matter of opinion. Rather, teachers are given latitude to exercise their professional expertise within an evaluation framework, usually involving a number of assessment events and governed by externally moderated procedures and standards. While formal assessments playing a significant supporting role, teachers can also take into account ability, motivation, creativity, potential, and the work ethic of each student.

The proposed system is best described as externally monitored, school based and teacher led.

The purpose of this reform is not solely to abolish our reliance on a terminal examination, but to remove the straitjacket which the Leaving Certificate imposes on the entire school experience. Operating within the existing constraints, student must focus entirely on those few weeks in June and teachers are forced to narrow the curriculum and “teach to the test”.

Remove this impediment, and greater flexibility in teaching and learning will undoubtedly follow. – Yours, etc,


Professor of Educational Evaluation,

School of Policy

and Practice,

Institution of Education,

St Patrick’s Campus,

Dublin City University,

Dublin 9.