Giving Leaving Cert students predicted grades: Why it is a bad idea

These are strange and uncertain times. The Covid-19 crisis has had a detrimental effect on many areas of society, none more so than education. Schools and universities have closed. Third-level students will not return to college this semester. It is looking likely that second-level students will suffer the same fate.

What is to become of the Leaving Certificate examinations? Will they go ahead? What are the contingency plans? 

There have been a number of proposed solutions. The exams could go ahead in June as normal, with the use of social distancing. The exams could be pushed back to later in the summer. Or perhaps a predicted grades model could be introduced to produce a final grade based on already-completed work. None of the solutions are ideal. But we are not in an ideal situation. 

The idea that exams could go ahead in June is not practical. Aside from the likelihood that it still won’t be safe to conduct them in June, students are working on very unequal grounds at the moment. Some students may have an inadequate internet connection, the lack of access to a quiet study space or the necessary equipment to conduct study at home.

On the other hand, there are many students who would thrive in this situation and would have no problem producing a good Leaving Cert result if it was to go ahead in June. But it is this divide that undermines this solution. 

There are too many issues that would come from predicting grades. The point of the examination number is to eradicate any chance of bias. If teachers were to look after assessing work to produce a final grade, bias would creep in. Objectivity would be done away with if teachers were grading their own students. 

As well as that, students can make huge leaps from their grades throughout the year, including their mock exams, to the Leaving Cert. It would be near impossible to predict this jump as it would differ from student to student.

Who would you give 625 points to? Who would you give less than 100 points to? What happens if thousands of Leaving Cert students challenge their predicted score? Students had in their mind, for the duration of their senior cycle at least, that they would be doing the Leaving Cert and that is how they have prepared. They did not approach learning in the knowledge that a continuous assessment or predicted grade would be used in the end. It may not be considered the best approach, but a lot of students cram and do better because of it.

Pushing the exams back until July or August might work. Implementing a push-back like this would add to the burden Leaving Cert students are already experiencing. It is not an ideal solution but it is the only viable option. Students have approached learning knowing they will complete an examination at the end. An exam must take place. It cannot take place in June for obvious reasons, so later in the summer will have to suffice. 

Leo Varadkar said the examinations will take place “by hook or by crook.” Whatever way they decide to conduct it, they need to decide quickly. The longer the uncertainty, the more it will exacerbate student stress and anxiety.

Ryan Carrick

Image Credit: Claire Young