With Leaving Certificate grades ‘apparently’ rising recently, I decided to do my own comparison analysis of the Leaving Certificate from the years 2018 and the recent 2023 results. There had already been a steady rise in performance and points over the last ten years anyway, but a recent sizable increase was now apparent (See Table 1 below). So, are our students working harder or is there something going on in the exam system?
Upon inspection, the percentage of students scoring a H4 or above in 2023 (A H4 is between 60% and 70% at higher level) has produced very surprising results. In the eleven subjects I sampled, the average increase (H4 grades or above) when comparing Leaving Cert 2018 to 2023 was 10%.
Table 1: The percentage of students that scored a H4 or above in LC 2018 and 2023
To summarise the data, we see double figure increases in just five years in Technology, Engineering, Irish, DCG, Home Economics (S&S) and Maths. Across the eleven subjects, the average percentage increase was 10%. I believe that the sampling of 11 subjects in this case is enough data to allow us to infer deductions about the results as a whole. The results would indicate that it is now difficult to compare the results of Leaving Cert students who completed exams before 2018 to the 2022 or 2023 cohort; and of course we are doing so. This throws up a lot of questions about where our education system is going. It seems a new benchmark has been set for future student results, and we aren’t going back.
10% is significant in my view. Imagine you got a 10% increase in your salary at work. The champagne corks would be figuratively popping as you calculate the substantial difference it would make to your budget each month. I feel that Leaving higher level subjects have been devalued, as there is no way students are performing that much better now than they did five years. When I look at my own students and the numbers they have just posted in their Christmas exams, I don’t see them having substantially more knowledge than the cohort I taught five years ago, with respect to both results and potential.
Is it a ‘medal for everyone’ mentality now? How can we compare Leaving Certificate results before, during and after the pandemic? I view this type of Grade Inflation as ‘optics’, and how Ireland’s PISA scores ‘need’ to be reflected globally. I welcome the proposed upcoming Leaving Certificate review. There will be increased emphasis on continuous assessment; but there must be proper teacher input, and my understanding is that it has been minimal enough so far.
In relation to continuous assessment, AI and allowing students work on their own would be a big concern for me. A teacher, I know well, ran their annual Christmas exam online for their LC Maths students recently. During the exam, students were asked to leave their cameras on as they completed it. Afterwards, he discovered (to his disappointment) that four of them had typed equations from the questions into a website or AI tool to help them find the answer. The reason he was certain of this was that five or six steps were missing from their page and even the greatest mathematician born couldn’t have made the jump to the final answer without the steps. This showed me that we have a long road ahead with continuous assessment and indeed AI. There are great kids out there as I always say, but temptation can be too much sometimes. The Integrity of any continuous assessment based model is bound to run into challenges like this, not to mention unknown issues that we will encounter. With increasing marking scheme flexibility and grades rising, the original bell curve is now recast. In September 2021, Minister Foley said that grades would return to “more normal levels” in 2022. This did not happen.
Third Level Implications
Students are now evidently being marked up for their efforts and are possibly heading to college with unrealistic expectations. Higher points mean students may take on third level courses that are too difficult for their actual academic ability. Career Guidance teachers and Parents need to be tuned into this fact; in case it is lost on our students. Do the graduated class of 2023 know how to extract critical information well? Students are scoring higher than ever, but are they more knowledgeable than their predecessors? Will these recent upgrades serve our students well for third level study and future life? How and why students choose their courses is more important than ever and we all wish them well. Joe
More details about Joe’s Maths Tuition Classes for 5th & 6th Year (Leaving Certificate Higher Students 2024) and his Award Winning ACE Maths Solution Books for all students can be found via the below links: