The recent judgement regarding the annotation on the leaving certificate  indicating an accommodation is unfortunate but also raises a number of important issues about the structure of the leaving certificate examination itself.

  1. Is the structure of the leaving certificate examination inappropriate to what it is assessing?
  2. What is the purpose of the exam, is it a recognition of the performance of the student or is it a recruitment tool  for employers?

In the first case, contrary to what the judge believes, the leaving certificate assessment process is both inflexible, full of inadvertent barriers and often inappropriate to what is being assessed.   According to the National Council for Curricula and Assessment* it  relies heavily on only one assessment instrument, a written examination and makes little use of other valid instruments such as continuous assessment, portfolios of evidence of work , observation, oral questioning, or any other perfectly valid and appropriate methods of assessment.  It potentially discriminates against the 12,000 of candidates who apply for reasonable accommodations in state examinations each year.  This is not due to any lack of ability and learning on their part, but rather to one size fits all narrow method of assessment that is the Leaving Certificate examination.

Furthermore the exam inherently assesses HOW the candidate performs rather the standards attained in the subject.  For example the design of the question will affect the capacity of the candidate to perform, for example a question phrased as follows:

A:“Produce an  answer to  all the questions”

Instead of

B:“Write the answers to all the questions”

A would allow the candidate to use a computer to answer the question if writing is an issue, whereas B specifies the candidate must write, putting the candidate through the process of having to apply for an accommodations, with all  the bureaucracy involved.  If the leaving certificate was designed to include a broader menu of assessment instruments then the student could use a method that allowed all students to demonstrate their learning .

Even in an English or language  paper where spelling and grammer are being assessed it is possible to differentiate sections of the paper such as the essay which assess the ability to think creatively and produce a well structured piece of prose, and other sections which specifically assess grammatical structure and correct spelling.

The other issue is the function of the leaving certificate examination.  Neither the NCCA nor the Report on the Commission on the Points 1998 refer to the leaving certificate as a recruitment tool for employers.  This point is a nonsense as over 65% of school leavers go on the third level which incidentally does not annotate its degrees, then annotating the leaving certificate for these students is irrelevant.

The equality authority has asked for a  review of the practices for reasonable accommodations but the department should go a step further and review the assessment practices of the leaving certificate itself to ensure that it is designed to adequately assess the performance of  all of the children of the state and free of barriers in line with their own policy of Inclusive Education.

*NCCA Report on Developing Senior Cycle Education 2003


For more about the case in question:

Press Release from the Equality Authority

Report from the Irish Times