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Exam board to address Leaving Cert 'predictability'

A report published by the Department of Education today was critical of “rote learning” and highlighted the common practice of memorising pre-packaged answers.

Image: Mark Stedman/Photocall Ireland

A REPORT PUBLISHED by the Department of Education today has called on the State Examination Commission (SEC) to address predictability in the Leaving Certificate.

The SEC will now set out proposals to tackle what the Higher Education Authority and National Council for Curriculum and Assessment called “problematic predictability”.

The research was critical of so-called ‘rote learning’ and highlighted reports of students memorising pre-packaged answers and essays to gain maximum points.

Education Minister Ruairi Quinn told Morning Ireland that he had asked for predictability in the State exams to be looked at to ensure the bridge between secondary level and higher level education is strengthened. He added that such predictability had become a “big issue”.

Commentary frequently around exams in June is often about “no surprises” and a “good exam” is equated to a predictable one, he said.

This leads to ‘teaching to the test’, for example anticipating what poets will come up in the English examination. Teachers, under pressure, will concentrate on predicted questions that are likely to arise.

“Therefore the curriculum is bypassed in favour of concentrating on those questions that will arise and the preparation of tailored answers. That is not what critical thinking and analytical skills are about,” he added.

The report also recommends that the number of grades that can be achieved in the Leaving Certificate exams be reduced from 14 to eight. The NCCA and the SEC will analyse the benefits of getting rid of the sub-categories in the B and C grades to leave just A1, A2, B, C, D, E, NG.

The proposed change could reduce the “race for points” if used in conjunction with a shift in how undergraduate courses are organised, said the organisations.

The paper also recommended that universities should review their portfolio of courses with a view to reducing their number and introducing more generic first-year courses.

In a statement, the Minister said he was “in agreement with the overall thrust of the recommendations in the report”.

Quinn, however, also moved to assure current Fifth and Sixth Year students that no changes will be implemented in the education system that would “change the path they are taking”.

The proposals outlined in the report will not take affect within the 2012 school year.

The HEA, NCCA and SEC will now work to prepare and submit implementation plans for the curriculum reform agenda, concluded Quinn.

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