Leave Junior Cert in-school exams out of new award
In my opinion...
At Easter, I had a very interesting experience which caused me to reflect on the proposed Junior Cycle reforms. Making my way towards Trinity College, Dublin to attend a seminar on Technology and Innovative History Teaching and the 1641 Depositions, I encountered a tsunami of young people along Leeson Street/St Stephen's Green. The numbers were striking and it occurred to me that they had spent the morning having their heads 'crammed' with possible examination answers in a series of Leaving and Junior Certificate intensive revision courses.
A short time later I was spellbound by a demonstration given by a different group of secondary school students as they shared their experience of self-directed learning using the 1641 Depositions, which have recently been digitised. Later in the seminar, their teacher wondered why he should have to fill his students' heads with historical facts when a Google search could free-up everyone - teacher and students alike - to involve themselves in richer, collaborative learning.
International research indicates that if we can provide a diversity of assessment modes and feedback, we provide teachers and students with enhanced learning experiences. The present stalemate between the Minister and the teacher unions in relation to assessment is a great source of frustration.
As principals and board of management chairpersons gather this week for the AMCSS/JMB annual conference, the JMB believes that it is time for both sides to revisit the innovative proposals from Dr Pauric Travers in order to seek a way forward.
Our suggestion is that Dr Travers' proposed school-based assessment replace two in-school written exams with two in-class evaluations of different kinds of learning at the end of second year and at Christmas in third year. Could we agree to allow schools to use an agreed template to report to parents on these outcomes towards Easter of third year along with a record of the student's achievement in other areas of learning? Teachers would engage in professional moderation processes with their colleagues and school work would be moderated nationally through the Support Service for Assessment (SSA). In this way, achievement awards as reported by teachers on the template are standardised across the country.
A well-designed report on a new range of in-school learning experiences with no percentages could be complemented by externally assessed written tests under the State Examinations Commission, with 100pc of the marks available and reported on in September through a state certificate. The teacher unions say they support the new curriculum goals but our attachment to traditional written assessment alone will not achieve these goals because what is assessed is what gets taught.
Ireland's teachers need no lectures on innovation but we all need support for change to be successfully implemented. The Minister must deliver on the promise to adequately resource the Junior Cycle framework, whatever its final configuration. It is absolutely essential that provision is made for planning-time, enhanced school leadership structures, regularly updated technology and continuous professional development.
* Ferdia Kelly is General Secretary, Joint Managerial Body (JMB) representing managers of over 400 secondary schools