As the new term begins, and whispers of mock exams and CAO deadlines surface menacingly, this year’s Leaving Certificate examinations are making their approach known, with the overwhelming majority of Trinity students full of both fond and painful memories of the ordeal they represent.
This year however, will mark a break with established practice in that the CAO will be using new system of grading bands. The familiar language of A1s, A2s, B1s and B2s that was an unmistakable part of the Leaving Certificate experience of today’s university students will likely become gibberish to those in secondary schools in a few years time. Now, fewer grading bands, running from H1 to H8 for higher level and from O1 to O8 for ordinary level will be used instead by students for conversion into points, the currency of the Leaving Certificate. In addition, points will be awarded for the first time to students achieving less than 40 per cent in higher level exams.
The move to fewer grading bands, combined with irregular intervals between the points awarded for each grade, is an attempt by the CAO to simultaneously address two issues. The fewer grading bands are designed to reduce the viciously competitive nature of the exams that sees every extra per cent count when the next step up is rarely more than five per cent away, while the irregular intervals of points are designed to counteract the resulting increase in probability that candidates will have the same number of points and be subject to the arbitrary cruelty of random selection.
However, this change seems largely aesthetic in character. The move back to wider grading bands, as were in place up until 25 years ago, is unlikely to displace the perniciously competitive culture that has emerged among the nation’s sixth year students. The number of students applying through the CAO is set to break records again this year and with their futures still dependent on the outcome of a single set of exams, with minimal continuous assessment, this cohort is no more likely to defy the trend and take their feet off the pedal than their predecessors.
If the CAO thought themselves able to erase the education system’s growing dependence on grinds and private tuition by tinkering with the form, rather than substance of the second level assessment, they are likely to be disappointed.