Grading changes ease points race, but other factors at play

Changes to the CAO system have eased-up the points race, but the full picture is not yet clear.

Nearly 52,400 applicants are being offered a place on at least one course this morning, and the minimum points needed for most courses are the same as, or down on, last year.

While the drop in points might be linked to the significant reforms of Leaving
Certificate grading and the points system introduced this year, other factors may also be involved.

Third-level colleges, for example, have offered 1,700 more people entry to honours (level 8) degrees than they did this time last year. Maynooth University said it has increased by 5%, to 3,150, the number of students it will register on undergraduate degrees.

Extra places on courses can allow more lower-points applicants to be admitted,
although the standard of
applicants — and not just
the numbers — also ultimately determines the cut-off points for every college programme.

The significance of the
reforms is also made more difficult to judge by the absence of full data on the overall performance of this year’s Leaving Certificate students.

While State Examinations Commission (SEC) data last week made clear that there had been a notable rise in numbers taking higher level exams, any impact on students’ CAO points scores is not yet known.

Last year, for example, there was a slight fall in the numbers of Leaving Certificate students getting at least 400 points, out of the maximum 600, before any bonus for passing higher-level maths was added.

Any similar, slight drop this year could have been the cause of the downward trend in CAO points requirements seen today, but that will only be apparent when the relevant statistics become available.

It is likely — but uncertain, in the absence of data — that the gains of those who picked up points for lower-end grades at higher level may not have had a significant impact. That is because those of similar abilities in the same subjects in previous years might have scored similar CAO points for high grades in the
ordinary level exams.

The use of new points for each of the new Leaving Certificate grades has reduced the use of random selection by colleges, which excluded some students from courses, while others with the exact same points were admitted.

The number of level 8 courses using the random system to allocate final places has halved, from 65 to 32, largely because any student is now much less likely to have the exact same CAO points as others.

The impact of this aspect of reform is likely to be of greater significance in future years, as more colleges broaden entry with fewer course codes in the next few years, meaning more places to fill on each of a smaller number of courses.

This would have caused significant upset in the event of random selection being used to separate students on the same score, as they were likely to be on a score that was a multiple of five.

With fewer grades now also being awarded in the Leaving Certificate, there was also a greater likelihood of individual students having the same score when combining their six best results, if the staggered CAO points, rising in fives to 100, had been continued.

But with only two grades now being multiples of five, they can be separated by any number of points and so fewer applicants to any particular course are likely to be all on the same score when it comes to allocating the last places.

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