High grades have become the new norm under Norma Foley. But they can’t go on. They may bring joy to many students who are doing better today than usual, but they seriously disrupt the system.
The big setback comes next week when many students with high or even maximum points enter a lottery to get their course of choice. It’s unfair to those who don’t get a spot on a course they’ve worked hard for and deserve.
The traditional distribution curve has been out of shape over the past three years and trying to break it will be very difficult.
It had been expected that this year would attempt to pull the grades back from the very high levels they had reached in 2021 and 2020. But a political decision was clearly made when the minister gave firm assurances in February that the results for 2022 would not be lower than last year.
The 2022 exam class had successfully argued that even a partial return to the old distribution of grades would be unfair to them. Their education has been disrupted by Covid and they would be at a serious disadvantage if they competed for college places with students with overachieving grades from the last two years.
The same arguments are used by the students who will bid farewell next summer. They will say that not only have they been hit by school closures, but they have had no state exam experience because their Junior Certificate exam was cancelled.
We are not the only country with this problem. England has also had very high grades over the past two years, but authorities there announced a “glide path” back to a more traditional grade distribution. That year, 36 percent of high school exams received an A or A*, compared to 44 percent in 2021. The results reflect a “halfway point” between 2019 and 2021 that included the boom years for top grades.
There hasn’t been enough controversy over the distribution of grades in England this summer, but the UK has a different college application and offer system to ours. Conditional offers are made on the basis that applicants achieve specific results. If they get it, they get it
In Ireland, bids are made on a supply and demand basis after the results are published. For the last two years the points have been higher than usual and we can expect the same next week. It will take a political decision to announce – and stick to – a timeline for returning to a traditional grading system. Theoretically, nothing stands in the way of repeating the ministerial decision of February next year if the political pressure becomes too great.
However, maintaining a timeline for returning to normal is necessary if we are to restore public confidence in our completion certificates, both at home and abroad. Like it or not, that trust has been shaken.
Aside from trying to return to a more traditional distribution of grades, the minister also has to look at the timing of the results, which have entered September for the third straight year. We are now the laggards in Europe when it comes to issuing results at the end of secondary school.
In the Netherlands, the final exam is taken in May and the results are published four weeks later. In Poland and France they appear in late June or early July, while in Spain and Belgium they appear in June.
The comparison is evident in an analysis by the Irish Universities Association, which criticizes the excessively long time it takes to publish Leaving Certificate results.
It is said that late results (even in a ‘normal’ year) put many Irish students at a disadvantage when it comes to deciding on a course abroad or waiting and hoping to get a place in Ireland. And of course it puts all Irish freshmen at a disadvantage when it comes to finding accommodation or other practical arrangements in an incredibly short timeframe.
One reason Ireland’s results are so late is that we rely so heavily on written examinations, much more than in many, if not most, other OECD countries.
Paul Crone, director of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals, said there was now broad consensus that senior cycle reform needed to take place.
“The pandemic has given us an opportunity to explore this issue of what purpose we want our post-primary education system to serve,” he said. After a century of dogmatic memorization, it was time to introduce 21st century education. Basic skills such as resilience and communication are currently not recorded, although they are important and in demand in our modern world.
The minister has clearly listened to calls for change and has announced a range of reforms, but there may still be a long way to go before they are introduced.
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/they-may-bring-joy-but-we-have-to-stem-tide-of-high-grades-and-bring-forward-reform-plans-41955107.html John Walshe: High Leaving Cert 2022 grades may bring joy, but we need to stem the tide of good grades and move forward with reform plans