Wednesday 19 December 2018

Leaving Cert assessment must change - university head

Prof Philip Nolan, President of Maynooth University pictured at the Launch of the NPCpp Leaving Certificate Exam Helpline. Photo: Frank McGrath
Prof Philip Nolan, President of Maynooth University pictured at the Launch of the NPCpp Leaving Certificate Exam Helpline. Photo: Frank McGrath
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

The way students are assessed in the Leaving Certificate needs to change, according to Maynooth University president Professor Philip Nolan.

Prof Nolan said the reliance on the traditional written exams in June was too narrow.

"We need much more innovation and diversity in the modes of assessment to encourage better student learning," he said at the launch of the National Parents' Council post primary (NPCpp) Exam 2017 Helpline.

As an example, Prof Nolan said that there should be more subjects where students are assessed in project work that they complete in school, such as design and communications graphics, where 50pc of the marks are awarded for the practical.

Prof Nolan headed the universities' task force on the reform of the points scale, which is being implemented this year, along with a restructuring of the exam grading system.

The changes, the first of such in 25 years, have been designed to take the heat out of the points race while, at the same time, rewarding scholastic achievement.

Betty McLaughlin from the Institute of Guidance Counsellors with Professor Philip Nolan, president of Maynooth University, and Ross MacMahon, communications director with the
National Parents Council, at the launch of the NPCpp Leaving Certificate Exam Helpline. Photo: Frank McGrath
Betty McLaughlin from the Institute of Guidance Counsellors with Professor Philip Nolan, president of Maynooth University, and Ross MacMahon, communications director with the National Parents Council, at the launch of the NPCpp Leaving Certificate Exam Helpline. Photo: Frank McGrath

But Prof Nolan said that it was only one step - a technical step - in what must be an ongoing process of reform around the Leaving Cert and the transition from second-level school to college.

"We really need to consider new forms of assessment," he said.

Government education adviser the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment has already started a review of the Leaving Cert, and is currently preparing a background paper on best international practice.

The road to change in the Leaving Cert is being paved by the reform of junior cycle, which is being implemented in all schools this September, after years of controversy because of resistance by one of the teachers' unions, the Asti.

At the centre of the row over junior cycle reform was a plan for teachers to assess their own students but, ultimately, this was dropped.

The new-style junior cycle involves the introduction of new classroom-based assessments in all subjects, along with the traditional June exams, although they will be shorter.

The view is that once students are exposed to the new way of learning in junior cycle, it will have to follow through to senior cycle.

Because of the level of change at junior cycle, all second-level teachers are being trained in new approaches to teaching, in which students are more actively engaged in their own learning

Prof Nolan is not calling for a "big bang" approach to a new-style Leaving Cert, acknowledging that "change can be difficult and can be easily derailed; we must proceed carefully".

He said that reform should be brought about through consultation and collaboration, and to "have everybody in the room" to discuss what was needed to enhance student learning, was what worked best.

Prof Nolan said that, internationally, there were a wide range of different assessment models in use that could be looked at.

Rather than a single sweeping change, Prof Nolan said there was scope to "innovate within subjects" and for teachers in individual disciplines to be involved in deciding, for instance, "how we can make physics more interesting".

Plans to change the way that Leaving Cert science subjects are assessed, along the line of what Prof Nolan is suggesting, are already well advanced.

In the coming academic year, a number of schools will be involved in trials of 90-minute practical exams in biology, chemistry and physics, which would be worth 30pc of the marks for those subjects.

The hands-on assessment will allow students to demonstrate what they know in a real-life way, rather than relying solely on written exams, for which many depend on rote learning.

Helpline to assist parents and pupils

About 58,000 Leaving Cert candidates are awaiting the release of the results tomorrow and, as usual, the National Parents Council post primary (NPCpp) Exam Helpline will be open to assist parents and students with any queries they may have.

The freephone 1800 265 165 helpline, sponsored by the Irish Independent, the Department of Education and Skills and Eir, opens at 10am tomorrow and will run for six days over the next week.

It will be staffed by members of the Institute of Guidance Counsellors and a representative of the grants agency, Susi, who will provide one-to-one advice to callers on the various issues that arise at this time.

Independent.ie will also run a live interactive blog on the mornings of August 16 and August 21. Questions can be sent to contact@independent.ie, on Twitter with #IndoCAO and through the liveblog itself.

Irish Independent

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News