You get what you measure 

 

I attended two separate but related events this week which raised serious challenges for the education system.  The first was the Transitions Conference organized by the HEA and the NCCA which looked at changing the Leaving Certificate and its relationship to college entry, the CAO points.  There was great emphasis put on the backwash impact  the CAO process  is having on teaching and learning in secondary school and how the Leaving Certificate as an assessment instrument, has become the tail that wags the curriculum dog. On the basis that you get what you measure, the Leaving Certificate, particularly when combined with the CAO college entry selection criteria, does not encourage or nurture the learning of the generic skills that all young people must have to negotiate their way in an ever changing world of knowledge and technology.  Skills such as independent learning, analysis of information, problem solving, critical thinking and on and on…

 

Yet there was also recognition of the integrity and public perception of fairness embedded in the Leaving Certificate and CAO system which it was felt must be preserved in any change initiative.

 

But it was blatantly obvious from the presentation of research findings delivered by the ERSI and from many speakers, that the present system does not suit very many learners and the existence of the HEAR and DARE schemes are evidence of the inherent unfairness of the system for many groups, never mind those young people who complete the Leaving Certificate Applied which is not recognized by the CAO, or the many young people who simply drop out of school.

 

It begs the question, which is more important,  an education  system designed to equip all young people for life, or,  a system that is fair, reliable and has public confidence, or indeed are the two mutually exclusive?

 

The answer is obvious if not simple.  There can be no ifs and buts.  Now is the time to go back to the drawing board and design a system of assessment based on principles of universal design that would enable all students a fair opportunity to develop their potential, to learn generic skills and to demonstrate what they know.  Such a system if designed around the learning needs of all students would include a range of robust assessment instruments including portfolio’s, projects, group work, exams, competency based observations would be fair, transparent, reliable and engender integrity.  Flexibility and integrity can go together and are not mutually exclusive.

 

The Government already has a policy of inclusive education in place and now is the time to enact it by designing a universal system of curricula and assessment that would benefit all students (including those with disabilities).  Such an inclusive approach would than take away the need for inappropriate and inefficient add on schemes such as HEAR and DARE as all candidates would be assessed fairly within a framework of assessment designed precisely to measure the skills and knowledge they were designed to measure. A system of Universal Assessment would encourage and bring a wider range of pedagogical methods into the classroom with the capacity to genuinely engage the student and encourage the generic learning skills needed for life.  We have many models for such a system already in colleges of Art and Design and in the successful FETAC model of assessment in operation in the vocational sector.

 

The second event I attended brought the need for universal design in education home even more. I spoke at a Labour Party event in the Mansion House on disability where there were many parents of deaf and blind children talking about their experience of negotiating a basic education for their children.  In spite of the government rhetoric around a consultative process with parents, they feel un-listened to.  Most describe a whole confluence of systematic barriers to learning for their children starting at birth and persisting right through the education system.  The result is a generation of bright sensory impaired young people who leave school ill equipped in basic literacy to progress on to education or employment because their needs have been systematically ignored.

 

A student centred system of education, according to recent ESRI research engages students and ensures their retention within the system and serves the different learning needs of all children by offering flexibility and creativity in teaching.  It makes no sense to change the activities within the classroom and continue to examine everything thought written examinations.  This is the right time to change the Leaving Certificate, we have heard about it for years and Minister Ruairi Quinn we hope is taking the reins and embracing a move to change.

 

We support his efforts wholeheartedly.

 

Ann Heelan

Executive Director

 

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