Sunday 22 July 2018

Fairer results system that delivers fitting rewards for the work and effort put in

(stock photo)
(stock photo)

Betty McLaughlin

The awarding of CAO points to students who achieve 30pc-39pc on a higher level paper is a fitting reward for work done and effort made during the course of their studies. `

As educationalists, we are delighted to see more of our students opting for higher level papers - and the demands of critical and analytical higher order thinking which such study entails.

These skills are so essential in equipping young people for successful outcomes in higher education courses and in coping with life's challenges. Up to now, a 39pc score on a higher level paper meant a student got zero CAO points. A 40pc score, only one percentage point more, would mean 45 CAO points for that student. Surely, this was an unnecessary stress and a deterrent for students considering taking higher level papers.

Similarly, it was unfair under the old system that a student achieving 39pc at higher level got no points, while a student scoring 40pc at ordinary level got five points. By awarding points for 30pc-39pc on higher level papers, we are incentivising students to take a more measured risk. This was borne out by the record numbers taking nearly all subjects at higher level this year.

The gamble certainly paid off for those students who took higher level maths this year. Only 344 of the 16,395 (15,198 last year) who did so failed to achieve at least 30pc and ended up with no points from that subject for college entry.

However, these 344 students are not out of the running when it comes to getting a place in college. Nor are the 3,200 who got less than 40pc at ordinary level. This represents one in 10 candidates who took maths at ordinary level and is in line with previous years results.

But maths is not essential for all third-level courses. They can still get offers for arts, law, music, art, sports, social science, film and media, drama, creative computing and media technology, journalism and many more besides.

The new grades and new points have been carefully designed. Various models were looked at with a view to getting a balance between stretching the students, enhancing the learning experience and not putting them under too much pressure. We expect a positive outcome will be the impact on student stress. We have seen much evidence of the undue stress levels experienced by students in second-level, particularly girls. This was confirmed in studies carried out by the Economic and Social Research Institute over the past decade and more.

It is important to see the changes in the grading system and the CAO points scale as part of a wider package of reforms around the Leaving Certificate and the transition to third-level.

The commitment made by colleges to broader entry routes will allow students to put off decisions about specialisation until later in their studies, where they can then make more informed choices on what aspects of their course most excite them, leading to a more fulfilling learning experience. Some higher education institutions such as Maynooth University, DCU, UL and UCD have taken the initiative and reduced the number of options by creating broader entry routes. But they still have too many courses to choose from - with 1,036 at Level 8, 332 at Level 7 and 124 at Level 6.

More generic entry routes would also have the effect of dampening down the high points levels that are often associated with niche courses and reducing the pressure on students.

We need arts, science, business, law and engineering programmes but the entry routes must be simplified.

The education system must continue to evolve. Every child deserves equal opportunity. However, what is not changing is that the Leaving Cert is still being marked in the same way - neither harder nor easier than in the past.

There will be shifts in the points required for some courses but this affects all candidates equally.

I believe it is a fairer system, as it will cut down substantially on random selection, which has caused a lot of stress to students over the past 20 years.

Irish Independent

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