The debate is ongoing in relation to continuous assessment at Secondary school, with a keen focus currently on the percentage and type of allocation being introduced for the new Junior Cycle. Many subjects at Junior Cycle level already have Classroom Based Assessments (CBA’s) incorporated into them. Now with a review of the Leaving Certificate taking place (more than likely to be rebranded the ‘Leaving Cycle’), I am wondering whats next? As with any change to an assessment model, we need to ensure there are transparent procedures in place and a clear sense of fairness is preserved.
With the above in mind, firstly I feel that any continuous assessment needs to be completed during school time. If students take work home, it may become an unfair competition depending on the socio-economic background of their parents and other extrinsic factors. i.e. I feel we can’t take the chance of having any external interference in projects that students are required to complete alone. We need to make sure a level playing field is retained and that we don’t allow potential changes to tarnish or unbalance our currently solid exam system.
Should Teachers assess their own Students?
I strongly feel that projects and practical’s should not be corrected by the student’s own teacher. The department needs to hire suitably qualified personnel for these posts. They also need to properly resource schools for these assessments and allocate proper time on the timetable for students and teachers to prepare for them.
Teachers are clear that they don’t want to assess their own pupils. A teacher correcting their pupils’ work for any kind of state certification would leave our existing robust system open to all kinds of accusations. When I read articles around the world and hear of exam papers being leaked and scandals over corruption in education, it’s clear that our current Irish system actually works pretty well. People need to be careful what they wish for. ‘The law of unintended consequences’ and ‘baby and bath water’ come to mind here. The SEC and our Department of Education and Skills have a great record of always acting professionally and with the utmost integrity when it comes to the exam process. These principles need to be maintained at all costs.
According to a Jan 2019 report from the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals (NAPD) entitled ‘Senior Cycle Reform – What do we want?’, the responses are varied in relation to the question of exam paper correction. For example, only 22% of principals, deputy principals and teachers support the practice of correcting their own students’ work, with many having concerns that a teacher would be biased against/for a student. That number increases to 30% of parents who would support such a change with a slight majority of 51% of students wanting it. Not major numbers in favour there!
How can we Improve our Current Exam System?
In order to further improve the exam system, I propose that we have a week of continuous assessment before Easter to take the pressure off the June bottleneck. Each student could still then enjoy their Easter holidays and return refreshed for the last push towards June’s finals. I think by spreading the load more, it would mean that all the focus for the student isn’t placed on one part of the academic year. This would greatly reduce the intensity levels for those two weeks in June.
Would studying a reduced amount of subjects, five for example, be another option? I think the benefit of having less subjects would mean that students could spend more time exploring and even enjoying the ones they select. It might also take away the constant focus on how many CAO points a subject can yield and allow them to investigate topics they genuinely have an interest in. Third level courses are usually made up of quite specific content compared to our current broad based Leaving Cert. Is our second level system too broad? Are our students ‘Jack’s and Jill’s of all trades and masters of none’?
Another potential option might be to run a compulsory Transition year (TY) and implement some continuous assessment at the end of that year. This would ensure the large majority of students would be eighteen sitting their final exams and therefore be in a better position to decide on their third level/further education options also. The students could still enjoy their trips, experiences, and work placement in tandem with assessment in certain subjects. In addition to this, I would also like to see a system where all TY’s have the opportunity to sample leaving cert subjects. This would give them a deeper understanding of subject content, prior to making those choices for 5th year.
I am all for some continuous assessment, but still feel a final exam is the best and fairest way to differentiate and separate students academically. Having said this, I would be in favour of students having around 30% (approximately one-third) continuous assessment of each subject assessed before sitting down to do the final exam papers at the end of the year. This would seriously reduce current exam anxiety.
There are always improvements we can make to our exam system, but I feel there is a still lot right with it. Some of the above initiatives would take a little pressure off our students, while maintaining the integrity of our process. Indeed, there are a many changes the department could make, and it seems some are afoot. Ultimately, I still firmly believe that final exam papers should be retained as the fairest judgement. Joe
To view last weeks feature article on ‘Twenty Five Summer Reflections for Students’, click here.
More details about Joe as a Maths Tutor for Junior Cycle and Leaving Certificate (2022), ACE Maths Assessments, and his Award winning ACE Maths Solution Books can be found via the links below.