The debate is ongoing in relation to continuous assessment at Secondary school, with a keen focus currently on the percentage and type of allocation taking place for the new Junior Cycle. Many subjects at Junior Cycle level now have Classroom Based Assessments (CBA’s) incorporated into them. With a review of the Leaving Certificate (likely to be rebranded the ‘Leaving Cycle’) taking place, I am wondering what is on the horizon? 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.
Preserving Fairness is Key
With the above in mind, firstly I feel that any continuous assessment introduced 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 or tasks that students are required to complete alone. We need to make sure a level playing field is retained for all students and that we don’t allow potential changes to tarnish or unbalance our mainly 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 from around the world and hear of exam papers being leaked and scandals over corruption in education, it’s clear to me that our exam system here in Ireland 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 January 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 assessment. 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 or 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 are they?
How can we Improve our Current Exam System?
In order to further improve the exam system, I would 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 an option? I think the benefit of having less subjects would mean that students could spend more time exploring and even enjoying their selected ones. It might also take away the 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 a compulsory Transition year (TY) and implementing a form of continuous assessment at the end of that year. This would ensure the majority of students would be eighteen years old upon 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 defined 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 subject choices at the end of 4th year.
I am for some form of continuous assessment, but still feel the final exam is the best way to differentiate the students academically. I would be in favour of students having around 30% (approximately one-third) continuous assessment finalised in each subject, before sitting down to do their final exam papers at the end of 6th year. This would reduce existing exam anxiety, especially if the student was made aware of what their score was out of 30, prior to the final exam. Many third level courses use this type of system.
There are improvements we can make to our exam system, but I feel a lot is still right with it. We need initiatives that would take some pressure off our students, while maintaining the core integrity of the process. Indeed, there are many changes the department could make, and it seems some are afoot. Ultimately, I still firmly believe that sitting down to final exam papers should be retained as the main and fairest judgement. Joe
“Today is a new day. I can try yesterday’s unfinished task again”
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