Revealed: Points for students who 'fail' at higher level Leaving Cert
Students are to get 37 points for a mark of between 30pc and 39pc in a Leaving Certificate higher-level paper, even though this is traditionally seen as a "fail".
The Irish Independent has learned detail of the major overhaul of the CAO points system which is being rolled out for incoming fifth-years in September.
The new grading scheme, coupled with changes in how grades are converted into CAO points, will come into play for the 2017 state exams.
Universities and institutes of technology are very close to signing off on the new CAO scale that, for the first time, will award points for what has traditionally been deemed a 'fail' grade at higher level.
The first such reforms in over 20 years are designed to encourage students to aim for honours while also taking some of the heat out of the points race.
Education Minister Jan O'Sullivan is expected to roll out full details of the package of reforms next month.
Currently, students sitting higher-level papers, who narrowly miss a mark of 40pc (D3), get no points at all for their effort, although the standard is regarded as similar to a mark of about 70pc at ordinary level.
Awarding points for between 30pc and 39pc on an 'honours' paper is intended to act as an incentive to students to be more ambitious, while removing the risk of gaining no CAO points if students come up slightly short.
The first step in the reforms was agreement on replacing the tightly packed 14-step ABC-style grading system, where 5pc separates most grades.
For instance, a B3 is awarded for 70-75pc, a B2 for 75-80pc and a B1 for 80-85pc.
It is blamed for promoting a practice among students - and teachers - of feverishly chasing every extra mark, often through a reliance on rote learning.
The new scale will have broader grading bands covering a 10pc stretch of marks, such as 70-80pc. This will run from H1 to H8 at higher level and O1 to O8 at ordinary level. It will also be non-linear, meaning that there will be variations in the differences between each stage.
Arising from agreement on the grading structure, discussion focussed on a new way of converting grades into CAO points.
Among the outcomes is the introduction of 37 points for the new H7, which will be awarded for marks of between 30-39pc.
The top of the new CAO higher level scale (H1) will remain at 100 and, in another key change, instead of going down by standard steps of 5 or 10 points, different increments will be used between grades.
Under the current system, points are awarded in multiples of five only - e.g. 75, 80, 85, 90, 100 - which means that a relatively large number of students get the same points score.
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From 2017, rather than going up in standard steps of five or 10, different increments will be used between the grades.
While a H1 (90-100pc) will get 100 points, it is thought that a H2 (80-90pc) will get 88 points while a H3 (70-80pc) will get 77 points.
It means that any points score between 0 and 625 is possible, so that far fewer students will have the same score, meaning less random selection at CAO offers time.
The existing relationship between the higher and ordinary level scales - where a higher C3 is equivalent to an ordinary AI - will remain. In the new regime, points for H5 will be the same as for an O1, while a H6 will be the same as an O2.
The 37 points to be awarded for a 30-39pc mark (H7), will be the same as what will be awarded for an O3.
Agreement comes after four years of discussions aimed at bringing about improvements, while not damaging the integrity of the system.
The work has involved the Department of Education, universities and institutes of technology, State Examinations Commission (SEC), the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA) and Higher Education Authority (HEA).
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