Irish universities are warning that the Leaving Cert is facing a "credibility issue" after the number of students getting top grades surged during the pandemic.
The number of students achieving the highest marks – eight H1s – in the Leaving increased from just seven in 2019 to 119 last year – an increase of 1,600%.
Meanwhile, there are increasing calls for the class of 2022 to sit a hybrid model once again due to the disruption the students have faced in the past two years.
Sinn Féin is this week putting forward a Dáil motion calling for this year’s assessment to be based on a mix of written exams and accredited grades once again.
The Labour Party has already made similar calls, which are supported by stakeholders including parent and student associations.
On Newstalk Breakfast this morning, the Director-General of the Irish Universities Association (IUA) Jim Miley said the State exam is facing a “credibility issue”.
“It is not just the very top of the pyramid,” he said. “We have seen grade inflation right across … for relatively accessible courses in the past, last year, we found ourselves with a huge number of additional students qualifying to get into them.”
“The result of that was that places were allocated in a whole range of course on random selection.
“So, you had students who got the necessary grades but suddenly found themselves in a lottery and didn’t get the courses they wanted. There is a credibility issue.”
He said students may feel it is unfair to ask them to sit the Leaving Cert as normal this year – but warned that the hybrid model has its own forms of unfairness built-in.
“It is understandable that students would feel they are still under significant pressure this year,” he said.
“Many of them have lost out days or weeks – or their teachers have – and the course probably hasn’t been covered to the extent it was in a normal year, but we are fearful that to continue what happened in last year and the year before could lead to other forms of unfairness.”
Mr Miley said many students did not get the course of their choices last year despite getting the required marks.
“There are students who chose to sit the Leaving Cert, who got the points necessary and then who didn’t get the place and perhaps somebody else whose teacher had effectively marked their grades through the estimated grades process got a place instead,” he said.
“So, I think, when we talk about fairness, we are talking here about one form of unfairness replacing another.”
He said the Leaving Cert needs a long-term overhaul.
“We need less emphasis on the final exam, much more continuous assessment and crucially, we need the Leaving Cert to sit earlier and to have the results a lot earlier because everything is now tunnelled into an impossible time frame at the end.”
Mr Miley said the Government must come up with a fair way of conducting the exams that does not lead to further grade inflation.
He said the IUA is also calling on the Government to ensure this year’s marks are published “at least in the normal time frame and preferably earlier”.
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