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ASTI votes to resist Leaving Cert reform amid 'widespread concern' over impact of AI

A motion passed by the union warned that plans to allocate a minimum of 40% to continuous assessment will ‘inevitably widen the social divide’.

SECONDARY SCHOOL TEACHERS have voiced their fear about the potential influence of artificial intelligence (AI) amid plans by the government to increase the marks allocated for continuous assessment Leaving Certificate project work from 20% to 40%.

Delegates of the Association of Secondary Teachers in Ireland (ASTI) at its annual conference in Co Wexford voted overwhelmingly against plans to award a minimum of 40% of a student’s marks through assessment work that takes place outside schooltime.

Instead, ASTI members backed a motion calling for the assurance of “flexibility in the percentage of marks allocated” of each Leaving Certificate specification, seeking to decide the level of assessment by individual subject.

A motion passed by the union warned that otherwise say it will “inevitably widen the social divide”, partly as better resourced students may stand to benefit from the use of AI in their assessments.

John Conneely, who is an ASTI representative on the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment’s Leaving Cert development group, told delegates today that there is a “lower validity” of indirect assessment which is compounded by increasing the allocation of marks to 40%.

It risks undermining the “entire assessment process”, he added.

“…With the emergence of generative AI software such as ChatGPT4, the negative effects of over-weighting the allocation of marks compounds the lack of validity of this type of assessment,” Conneely told the conference while proposing his motion, which was passed.

Responding to the concerns today, Education Minister Norma Foley claimed that while “change is not comfortable”, the proposals are in the “best interests” of students.

Foley told reporters that she was committed to reforming the system of Leaving Cert assessment, either by allowing students to carry out practical experiments for science subjects, to ongoing written assessment that shows a progression for the student.

“I served many years as a teacher myself so I know change is not comfortable and it is not easy. But I do know also that we have to take the leap,” the Kerry TD said, adding that it is in the best interests of the students to show a diversity of skillset.

Speaking later in front of union delegates, Foley said the government is committed to examining the impact of AI in schools. 

She said that we need to “ensure that we consider the use of AI carefully on all aspects of teaching, learning and assessment, adding that teachers and schools must have the necessary resources and skills to support them.

‘Widespread concern’

Conneely, who proposed the motion, said the reform is a “one-size-fits-all approach” as planned.

He added that: “At least 40% of the marks be allocated to a second component has caused widespread concern among teachers, third level lecturers and many others involved in education.”

He said that at present only 14 Leaving Cert subjects, out of a total of 41, are examined entirely via end-of-year examinations.

“In some Leaving Certificate subjects for example in languages and music, skills such as linguistic skills and musical skills can be assessed directly by the examiner,” Connelly added.

The union conference heard serous concerns raised about how, where skills are “assessed indirectly as in a research project, problems arise regarding the authenticity of the student’s work”.

He quoted surveys from the Irish Science Teachers Association carried out in January, which found that 91% of science teachers believed that the allocation of 40% to this assessment component is too high.

However, Conneely said that for “financial and logistical reasons” the direct assessment of practical skills in science subjects has been ruled out. 

He warned that written coursework outside the examination hall can, “help to disadvantage the students who are already disadvantaged, as they may not have additional resources outside of school when preparing their investigative projects.”

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