State examinations and fairness

 

Sir, – The Taoiseach, Minister for Education and the State Exams Commission are to be commended for confirming that the Junior Cert and Leaving Cert exams are to go ahead. This is the clarity that students, teachers and parents have requested over recent weeks.

Some students are now expressing the view that the exams should not go ahead (“Secondary students want State exams replaced with predicted grades”, News, April 3rd).This is perhaps not altogether surprising.

However, the suggestion that some cobbling together of school grades in coursework as an alternative is not acceptable. Other than the classroom-based assessments designated for some Junior Cert subjects, school-based tests have not been standardised in terms of content, timing or the conditions under which they have been undertaken. For these reasons, any application of the “predicted score” approach would be grossly unfair to students in Ireland (where our assessment systems are different to those of other countries).

The prevailing situation is not the preferred option for anyone, but it applies equally to everyone so all candidates will be starting from a level playing field whenever the exams take place.

While the format of the Junior and Leaving Cert exams might not be ideal, the conduct of these exams has the advantage of being fair and allowing students to capitalise on the work they have been doing for these exams over the past two years. – Yours, etc,

MIRIAM WILEY,

Donnybrook,

Dublin 4.

Sir, – Predicted grades are in no way a viable option for us to take on in Ireland. I don’t think that making the argument that the UK is using predicted grades is a reason why we should. It is not a fair comparison in that the UK has been using the predicted grades system for some time in order to process college admissions. From their very first day of the A-level cycle, students are aware of the fact that their performance is being closely monitored and will directly contribute to their college application.

Furthermore, in a lot of schools in the UK, these predicted grades are determined by an adviser who usually works in the school and has been monitoring the student’s grades for the previous two years. We have no such trained officials in how to predict grades accurately as that methodology has never been used here. Many schools will not have collected enough data about their students to be able to accurately predict what grade they would receive in the Leaving exam. It also would not be fair on teachers around the country to ask them to make such a big decision that would have such an impact on students’ lives.

Mock exam results would also be grossly unfair to use, as some of the mock papers were being circulated online in the weeks coming up to the exams. Using these results to determine what the predicted grade should be would put any student who did not avail of this opportunity, as they wanted an accurate reflection of their progress, at a huge disadvantage.

There is never going to be a solution that pleases everyone, but cancelling the exams would be the most unfair option. The Leaving is built around an “on the day” exam. This has been the system since its inception and it is simply not conducive to predicted grades. Changing it now would be cruel, unfair and, most of all, not feasible. – Yours, etc,

EILY HEFFERNAN,

(Leaving Cert student),

Dublin 14.