Thursday 18 July 2019

It's not perfect, but this grading scale is a huge improvement on old system

Three Students Taking a Test
Three Students Taking a Test
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

THE current grading scale for Leaving Certificate exams was introduced in 1992, at the request of third-level colleges.

They wanted more "granularity", or a finer breakdown, of the system that existed prior to 1992, where results were measured by a seven-point ABCDEF and NG, with grade boundaries at 15pc intervals.

So, the 1, 2, 3 sub-grades were incorporated, at 5pc intervals, from 40pc to 90pc while A1 covered 90pc to 100pc.


This gave Ireland a 14-point scale on which to grade its school-leavers, something which was unique in the world.

Colleges were motivated by concerns about their increasing use of random selection for third-level places for large numbers of pupils achieving the same points score. The more differentiation in the grading, the easier it is to separate applicants and pick off the highest achievers.

Neither was random selection popular with parents or pupils, who saw unfairness in some being lucky enough to have their name pulled from a hat, or its digital equivalent, while many others with the same points were excluded. There is some random selection under the current system, but to a much lesser extent.

But the 14-point scale gave rise to unforeseen problems. Since 1992, the education system has seen innovations such as the publication of marking schemes by the State Examinations Commission, which allows teachers and pupil see exactly how marks are awarded, question by question, part by part.

That has encouraged 'teaching to the test' – a narrow focus on preparing pupils to anticipate exam papers and putting them under enormous pressure to 'learn off' enough answers to get through an assortment of questions in every exam they sit.

The pay-off, for those who are good at memorising answers, is scraping those extra five or 10 marks that can push them into a B1 or A2, or whatever, and put them ahead in the points race. And it makes the selection process easier for college authorities.

But such practices do not allow time for nurturing a spirit of enquiry, or the desire for independent learning needed for third-level and for life. That is not what education is about.

Irish Independent

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