The Role of the Leaving Certificate Examinations

The Leaving Certificate Exams have three main roles: sorting, incentivizing, and signalling. The exams serve to sort students into third-level courses where the students will perform well and contribute to the performance of their peers; they incentivize secondary school students to study hard and learn, and the examination process allows students to signal their academic abilities and their work discipline by doing well on them.

The pandemic shutdown has created learning and emotional challenges for sixth-year students, and also worsened the “digital divide” between students with supportive home environments and expensive computer technology and those without. An accommodation needs to be made for students who have not coped well in this very challenging environment. It is also sensible, where possible, to reduce the size of examination hall numbers. At the same time, cancelling the examinations entirely and replacing them with very noisy and low-information estimated grades seems an inferior plan.

The government, teacher’s unions, and Department of Education officials need to quickly step up and show courage and wisdom in implementing a solution that is not a muddle-through compromise designed only to appease political pressures. The cabinet including its senior members need to oversee and back whatever solution is quickly chosen and implemented. One obvious possibility would be a rigidly-capped estimated grades option (perhaps capped at H5-O1), together with an exam option for those students who feel that they can exceed the H5-O1 level, or exceed the estimated grade (below H5-O1) that they expect to receive.

4 replies on “The Role of the Leaving Certificate Examinations”

Last year’s fiasco of “calculated grades” will be repeated this year, with knobs on.

An elaborate system, invented last Spring and pressed into service without testing (yes, irony abounds!), collapsed in the Summer following controversy in the UK over the equivalent A-Levels system which reduced grades awarded to high-performing students from schools whose students had performed less well in the past. The effect here was that students got the grades which their teachers awarded, except in high-performing schools (mainly grind schools) whose students’ grades were reduced arbitrarily. The High Court will rule shortly on a number of cases and will surely complicate the whole situation.

No wonder the ASTI hates “calculated grades” and walked out of talks, only to be press-ganged back in by political and media pressure. Giving students the option of calculated grades or sitting an exam means that only those dissatisfied with the grade assessed by teacher will sit the written exam. An honest system would use the written exam to control for grade inflation but that won’t be done. There will be an orgy of grade inflation this year as teachers have no defence against the pressure from students and their parents. Points will skyrocket and there will be lotteries for many places in the highest point courses. One saving grace – students tend to steer clear of academic courses that place demands beyond their actual ability, regardless of the level of ability/knowledge implied in their fake grades.

You’re not on an IT comment thread now 🙂

I’m not sure how your direct, credible, unvarnished assertions will be received in this hallowed sanctum populated by the high priests and initiates of officialdom and academia and which echoes with their hushed and reverential murmerings.

It’s not just Leaving Cert students, it’s not even all young people in the educational system; it’s everyone who’s been affected for over more than a year by the inept response not just of our government, but of all governments in the western advanced economies.

I’m simply amazed at the lack of public outrage. It is possible a deep anger is being nursed and a severe judgement will be cast when voters get their chance the next time they visit the polling booths. Between September 2008 and February 2011, voters nursed their anger, bided their time and cast a brutal judgement at the polling booths.

On the other, people may be so relieved when this nightmare is finally over that they’ll just want to get on with their lives and not wish to revisit the nightmare. And there is also the possibility that those who have only been inconvenienced and have not been materially, financially or phsiologically damaged – and that constitutes a large majority – will be extremely forgiving. And, of course, there are those who believe that those who suffered severely somehow have only themselves to blame and that the ‘culling’ this virus has effected will considerably reduce future health and social care costs for society and the economy.

There is some patchy evidence that this is beyond the lack of public outrage in Britain – and it may also be the case here.

@Paul Hunt: you wrote of “the inept response not just of our government, but of all governments in the western advanced economies.” Do you have solutions to this which appear to have eluded every government? Are some governments better than other in their policies? Are you a Zero Covid advocate? What weight do you give to civil liberties?
Just thought I might pose some questions as I don’t share you apparent view that anger is some sort of rational policy response.

@John Sheehan,

We’ll get in to trouble for veering off the issue raised in the original post – and, as usual, I’ll be blamed.

But I am genuinely worried about the damage that’s being done to the younger generation who are in the educational system – and, particularly, the NEETs. They don’t really have any voice or agency. Those of us who are older have – and we’ll all recover from this pandemic in our way and deal with those who extended our suffering unnecessarily.

And the best advice is: “Don’t get angry; get even”.

It is as plain as a pikestaff that there is a marked difference between the response of the governments of advanced and rapidly developing economies in East Asia and Australasia and that of governments in the western advanced economies.

When the pandemic struck in late February and early March of last year, governments in the west who had been telling their voters that there is no such thing as the “magic money tree” were like rabbits frozen in the headlights. Any epidemiologist worth his or her salt was telling them they’d have to lock down, lock down hard, suppress the virus and then develop an effective test, trace and isolate (TTI) regime before contemplating any release of the lockdown.

That’s how MERS, SARS and Ebola had been sorted. And that’s what the East Asian and Australasian nations did.

Our lot in the west were absolutely horrified about the economic and social cost of doing this and they knew they’d provoke an army of self-serving libertarian cranks. Having lied continuously to their voters about the non-existence of the “magic money tree” they were forced to reveal the existence of not only one, but an entire forest of them. And, to their credit, it was the main central banks who provided them with this forest and literally begged governments to harvest the trees – with Philip Lane lately of this parish making a huge contribution at the ECB.

Having revealed the existence of this forest of magic money trees, governments knew the genie was out of the bottle and they wouldn’t be able to use this lie again with their voters, so they went in to damage limitation mode trying to convince voters that governments are like households and all this extra spending will have to paid back and they started to ease the lockdowns to taper off the spending before they had the virus suppressed sufficiently and without having effective TTI regimes in place.

And so we are where we are.

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