Friday 6 December 2019

Thousands of pupils face new tests in the 'basics'

John Walshe

MORE than 55,000 secondary school students will have to sit new tests in English, Irish and maths -- most likely at age 13.

A confidential report calls for standardised tests to find out what students are learning in the early stages of their secondary schooling.

The report also outlines worries about grade inflation in the Junior Cert, the Irish Independent can reveal.

It says many students awarded a D or higher grade do not have enough knowledge of maths that would be sufficient to meet their future needs in education and later life

The introduction of the tests is seen as an inevitable and imminent step in the reform of the Junior Cert, although there is no specific timeframe as yet.

Sources say the likely age for pupils to undergo the new tests is 13 or 14. The tests would be taken in all secondary schools, but not necessarily on the same days nationwide.

The report sets out two main options for these standardised tests:

  • Run them in each of the first three years of secondary school. l Hold them at one fixed point in the three-year period before the Junior Certificate exam.

Education Minister Batt O'Keeffe is already pressing for urgent changes in the present assessment system. He says too much emphasis is placed on rote learning.

Concern has also been expressed that the Junior Cert is too limited as an exam achievement and that pupils do less work in the first and second years of secondary school because they do not face a state exam until their third year.

The report was carried out by the Education Research Centre at St Patrick's College Drumcondra for the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, the State's advisory body, which has yet to make a formal recommendation.

The research will be discussed at the next council meeting on March 25.


Apart from recommending the introduction of the tests to the minister, the council also has to decide if it favours including test grades with the results of each student.

The report says there is need for standardised testing in lower secondary schooling to assist teachers in identifying learning difficulties and in establishing learning programmes to address those difficulties.

This is common practice in most countries whose assessment systems were reviewed by the researchers, Drs Gerry Sheil, Thomas Kellaghan and Grainne Moran.

The tests, which can take the form of multiple-choice or true/false questions, are a serious effort to make student assessment more objective, they say.

It would seem important to provide parents with the results of their children's performance on such a test, taking care to ensure that the information reported is comprehensible, and that appropriate support in interpreting the results is provided, says the report.

The researchers also point to grade inflation in the Junior Cert. Ten years ago, 71pc of students achieved a grade C or better on higher-level English but this had increased to 78pc by 2006. In Maths, the percentage increased from 66pc to 78pc over the same period.

However, these increases were not matched by an improvement in performance in the same subjects in the international benchmark PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) tests carried out by the OECD among 15 year olds in various countries.

The researchers say the PISA findings raise questions about the standards of achievement and the improvement in grades awarded in the Junior Cert.

It had been shown that about 14pc of Junior Cert students at ordinary level had very low achievement on PISA, even though they achieved a grade D or higher in the Junior Cert.

"Clearly the 'standards' on the Junior Certificate examination are lower than PISA. Indeed, quite a number of students who were awarded a grade D or higher could be considered, on the basis of their PISA performance, to have achieved a level of mathematical literacy that would be insufficient to meet their future needs in education and later life," the researchers added.

Irish Independent

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