Tuesday 27 June 2017

Teachers make CAO race even harder for students

Katherine Donnelly Education Editor

TEACHERS are contributing to the CAO points race in the way they mark their students in school exams, government education advisers believe.

The National Council for Curriculum and Assessment is concerned that there is too much focus on showing students how to get points, rather than proper teaching and learning.

They believe that teachers may be relying too heavily on how previous Leaving Cert exam papers were marked as a basis for how they teach their students.

Those fresh concerns arose during a review of the points system being carried about by the NCCA -- the body that advises the Education Minister Ruairi Quinn on the school curriculum.

Now, the NCCA is surveying teachers to establish just how big an influence the way previous exam papers were marked has on what is happening in Leaving Cert classrooms.

The NCCA move is part of a wider exercise to improve the college entry process, a key element of which is taking the heat out of the points race.

It comes amid concern that senior cycle education has turned into a vicious circle where the drive for points influences teacher practice which, in turn, pushes points up even further.

Every year, the State Examinations Commission (SEC) publishes a marking scheme for each exam subject that shows how marks were distributed to answers for each question.

The publication of the marking schemes after the exams is intended to assist that year's candidates in seeing whether there are grounds for an appeal.

Teachers generally use the marking schemes as a guide, but it is the extent to which they may be underpinning classroom practice that has prompted concerns.

Over-reliance on marking schemes as a teaching tool means students focus too much on memorising key points to to answer a question, rather than encouraging a good understanding of the topic.


It is known as "teaching to the test" and as well as driving up CAO points, it can result in students going on to third-level lacking the ability to learn independently.

As part of the points system review, the NCCA is exploring Leaving Cert grading, particularly how the further breakdown of ABCD grades in to – for instance – B1, B2 and B3 contributes to the points race.

The 1, 2, 3 breakdown differentiates candidates and minimises the extent to which colleges use random selection to decide who gets into a course, where too many applicants have identical points scores.

The narrow differentiation gives the edge to those with an extra five or 10 CAO points, but all that may be separating students above and below the points cut-off is how they answered part of a question.

The NCCA was surprised to learn that marking schemes were a very important tool for teachers and may have a more significant impact on teaching than previously thought.

The practice of "teaching to the test" is often at the root of criticism of grind schools.

Teachers are being asked how they mark and grade the work of Leaving Cert students in the classroom, in school tests and in pre-Leaving Cert exams.

The SEC and the universities are also actively involved in exploring changes to improve the current system.

The current points system is now 20 years old and while it is often described as fair and transparent, it favours students who excel at exams, or whose families can afford to pay for grinds.

Irish Independent

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