Concern at basic skills at Leaving Cert higher level maths

Leaving Certificate students need to think carefully before sitting higher-level maths papers, after the chief examiner expressed concern that some students lacked the basic skills needed for the exam.

In a report published by the State Examinations Commission, the chief examiner for Leaving Certificate maths said a “significant minority” of students taking the higher-level exam are struggling to complete basic procedures.

“The overall performance of some higher-level candidates with respect to their ability to apply basic skills appropriately and accurately is a cause for concern.

“It is clear that the proportion of the candidature for whom this is a significant difficulty has increased since 2011, and that a significant minority of candidates now struggle to complete multi-step procedures accurately,” stated the report.

The chief examiner said students who in previous years might not have studied higher-level maths “need to be better prepared” in these areas.

This is the first full report from the chief examiner for Leaving Certificate maths since Project Maths was initiated.

The syllabus has been criticised by some as a “dumbing down” of maths taught to students.

However, the report stressed that Project Maths laid out “an ambitious programme of change” for maths education in Ireland.

“Such change takes time to embed fully, and one cannot expect all of its objectives to be fully achieved in the first few years.”

From 2011 to 2015, there has been a fall in the number of students receiving an A, B, or C grades and a rise in those receiving an E, F, or NGs. The report notes this is “not surprising”, given the changes in the syllabus and the increase in the number taking the exam.

In the same period, the number of students taking higher-level maths has risen by 73%. The numbers taking ordinary-level fell by almost 14%, while those taking foundation-level has remained more or less stable at just over 10%.

Responding to the report, the director of the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals, Clive Byrne, said: “It points to the importance of students being fully informed when making the leap from lower-to higher-level maths and the need to ensure that schools have the time and resources to guide students in this choice.

“This includes one-to-one student-teacher advice and more formal career guidance, both of which education cuts over recent years have undermined,” he said.

The Department of Education said the report highlights the “systemic change” made to maths education and would provide a “significant amount of advice, guidance, and practical information” to teachers and students.


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