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Sunday 21 September 2014

Students to get points for fail grade in Leaving Cert revamp

Published 11/08/2014 | 02:30

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Radical proposals would bring an end to the days when a mark below 40pc was a fail.
Radical proposals would bring an end to the days when a mark below 40pc was a fail.

Leaving Certificate students would earn points for getting between 30 and 39pc in higher level papers under a new wave of reforms being discussed by the universities.

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Radical proposals would bring an end to the days when a mark below 40pc was a fail. A widening of the gap between points awarded for grades achieved at higher and ordinary level is also being considered as a means of rewarding the greater effort of those who study for honours.

And students would earn CAO bonus points for subjects that are directly relevant to their college course, a change that would discourage pupils from taking subjects considered better options for achieving top marks.

The proposals, drafted by the Irish Universities Association (IUA) Task Group on Reform of University Selection and Entry, are part of wider moves aimed at taking the heat out of the points race.

Plans are advanced for a first phase of changes, expected to be rolled out for students starting fifth year in 2015, and sitting the Leaving Cert in 2017.

These include a reduction in the number of ABC/123-style grading bands from 14 at both higher and ordinary level to eight at each, and greater use of broader entry routes to university to allow students to put off specialisation for a year or two.

The proposed new grading system would involve a H1-H8 scale at higher level, and O1-O8 at ordinary level, without the finer 123 breakdown.

Exam chiefs are also tackling problematic predictability in Leaving Certificate papers, to eliminate situations where teachers and students can second guess questions, and “learn off” a suite of answers in advance.

The IUA proposals, recently circulated to universities for consideration, would form the basis for a second round of reforms, likely to be phased in for students entering fifth year in 2016 and 2017

The thrust of the paper is to find ways to incentivise students to study at higher level and to take subjects that are challenging, suited to  their aptitudes and talents, and relevant to their plans for future study.

Among the concerns expressed in the document is the perception among students that it is easier to gain points in some subjects, and levels, which encourages some to choose subjects for a points advantage.

As well as picking inappropriate and less challenging subjects, some students opt for ordinary level, rather than run the risk of falling short of 40pc at higher level, with zero points.

The “relevance bonus”, a greater points weighting for higher level and points for 30-39pc on “honours” papers - H7 on the new points scale - are regarded as areas in which early progress can be made.

NUI Maynooth president Professor Philip Nolan, chair of the Task Group, said bonus points for higher maths was an example of how the points system could be used positively to influence student choice.

The thinking behind the “relevance bonus” is at an early stage, and the detail of how it would apply in practice would have to be worked out.

One likely option would see students getting a small bonus on their best two science subjects, if they were pursuing a third-level course in science, technology, engineering or maths (STEM).

In the same way, school-leavers going on to study humanities, social science, business and law could get the bonus for their best two subjects in these areas, such as languages or business.

Candidates who achieve a minimum Grade D in higher level maths now get 25 CAO bonus points, but the so-called “relevance bonus” would operate in a different way.

It is more likely that candidates would get two to three extra points, enough to give them the edge over other CAO applicants for the same course, who did not bring the “relevant” subjects to the table.

The IUA Task Group also raises questions about whether the points awarded for ordinary level are too high and whether greater weight should be given to engagement with, and achievement in, higher level subjects.

The discussion document is wide-ranging and opens up debate on a raft of others issues around ways to select Leaving Cert students for third-level, some of which will require extended consideration.

This year, Trinity College Dublin (TCD) introduced a limited feasibility study, reserving places on a small number of courses for students who sought to be considered on more than their Leaving Cert results.

The outcomes will be of interest to the IUA as it continues its deliberations.

The IUA is also examining the college entry processes employed in other countries.

One of the IUA Task Group proposals could see the end of the requirement to have Irish for entry to the four NUI colleges .

The Department of Education, along with the universities, Institutes of Technology Ireland, the State Examinations Commission, the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, the Higher Education Authority and Quality and Qualifications Ireland are all involved in the points reform process.

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