Exams

Friday 1 August 2014

New Leaving grades bid to take heat from points race

ABC system will be dropped in sweeping education changes

THE traditional Leaving Certificate 'ABC' grading system is being completely replaced as part of sweeping changes designed to take the heat out of the points race for college entry.

Pupils starting fifth year in 2015 can expect to be rated under a new scale that reduces the number of grades from 14 to eight.

In a significant move, each grade will have a range of 10 percentage points rather than the existing model, where 5pc can make the difference between bands – and crucial CAO points.

As well as cutting the number of bands, the old alphabetical A to F grades will disappear, as well as the dreaded NG or No Grade.

The new scales will instead run from H1-H8 at higher level and O1-O8 for ordinary-level candidates, with wider bands.

For example, instead of an A1 for a minimum 90pc, an A2 for 85pc-89pc, and a B1 for 80pc-84pc, a higher level candidate will receive a H1 for minimum 90pc and a H2 for 80-89pc.

The use of narrow bands is blamed for putting pressure on pupils to achieve small but significant gains in CAO, and encouraging rote learning.

The concept of No Grade (NG) will also be consigned to history and will be replaced by a H8 or an O8, which will cover a percentage mark of 0pc-29pc.

Work on the new grading scales is not finalised, but Education Minister Ruairi Quinn confirmed this was what pupils sitting the Leaving Certificate in 2017 were likely to face.

The next challenge is to translate the new grading scale into CAO points, the measure used for selecting Leaving Certificate candidates for entry to third level, work on which is continuing.

Grade reform is only one aspect of an overhaul of the transition from second-level to third-level, aimed at minimising the often nerve-wracking pursuit of points to the detriment of a good education.

Mr Quinn today published a "progress report" on the reform plans, ahead of the annual teacher conferences, which run this week.

The interim report also addresses two other key areas – predictability in the Leaving Certificate exams, and a commitment to offer broader entry routes into third level.

All agencies involved in second and third-level education, as well as student representatives, have been working on different elements of the reform package, in an interconnected way.

Third-level colleges are playing their part by reducing the bewildering array of undergraduate courses available on the CAO.

The idea is to put more focus on broader entry routes, with pupils postponing decisions on specialisation until their college years when they have a better idea of what direction they want to take.

In a first step, universities have committed to ensuring that the number of undergraduate courses offered in 2015 is reduced to the same number available in 2011.

There will be a further phased reduction in courses by 2017.

Meanwhile, institutes of technology are also reviewing their courses, with a view to having more common entry programmes and less complexity of choice.

As part of the process, colleges are considering other matters relating to the selection of students, including the use of supplementary assessments and the minimum subject requirements for particular courses.

Another wing of the reform package is concerned with "predictability" of Leaving Certificate exams.

This is being addressed because of concerns that pupils and teachers may be second-guessing the exam papers and so focusing on teaching and learning to test.

The working group dealing with this has found that predictability is not a major issue, although some problems were identified and are being taken on board as part of the reform deliberations.

REFORM

The plan is to finalise all elements of reform and the scope and timetable for implementation before the end of this year.

Publishing the interim report of the Transition Reform Group, Mr Quinn expressed his satisfaction at the progress being made on the three key areas of reform and the co-operation, engagement and commitment of all the partners.

He said: "For the first time, we see the concerns around the high-stakes nature of the points system and the Leaving Certificate being addressed in a coherent way across both second and third level."

Mr Quinn said that, given the sensitivities involved in the Leaving Certificate exam, and higher education entry, all change would be carefully managed by the education partners.

Irish Independent

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