Leaving Cert results: Students reap the rewards of exam reform

Reforms to the college entry system that reward students for attempting tougher exams have led to a spike in numbers taking higher level in most Leaving Certificate subjects.

The move reduced the risk of losing out on vital Central Applications Office points for college entry, and thousands of the 58,500 students getting their results today appear to have reaped rewards.

This year, for the first time, students who get 30%-40% in a higher-level subject receive a H7 grade and 37 CAO points. Under the old system, the corresponding E grade was worth zero points, meaning some borderline students avoided higher level because of that risk.

The change was expected to boost the numbers taking higher-level maths, with the added incentive of 25 bonus points if they managed a H6 or higher for getting over 40%. State Examinations Commission (SEC) data on the Leaving Certificate 2017 results reveals the effect has been much more widespread.

The 16,395 students who took higher-level maths represent 30% who did the subject in June, up from 28% a year ago when the effects of bonus points for maths from the CAO since 2012 had levelled off. Just over 1,000 of them got a H7 and 37 points, and the number getting no CAO points has halved from nearly 700 to 344, despite 1,200 more students doing it this year.

Other impacts include the number of students taking Irish at higher and ordinary level almost reaching parity for the first time ever. The proportion of those doing the subject at higher level has jumped from 42.5% to 46% in a year.

There were 4% more students taking honours exams in French and geography than did so in 2016.

Education Minister Richard Bruton welcomed the improvements, noting that there was a 3.2% increase in the proportion of students taking higher level across all subjects offered at more than one level.

The changes should not have any major effect on the CAO points required for entry to some of the 1,300 courses on which places will be offered from Monday.

Most of the students getting a H7 and the consequent 37 CAO points or slightly better might otherwise have received similar CAO points if they opted instead for ordinary-level papers and got one of the top three new grades at that level.

Employers’ organisation Ibec said that uptick in students attempting higher-level maths was welcome and a further vindication of the decision to offer bonus points for the subject.

“The introduction of the new grading system has also encouraged students with the required aptitude to take the higher-level papers,” said Ibec innovation and education policy senior executive Claire McGee. “However, for such improvements to be sustained over the coming years, we need to focus on teaching quality.”

Ms McGee urged the Government to consider incentivising other key subjects for the economy in a similar way to maths.

The new CAO points will be used to decide which Leaving Certificate students get college places in the first-round offers next Monday.

They have been introduced in tandem with a range of new Leaving Certificate grades, with the 14 grades from A1 to NG at higher and ordinary level replaced by eight new grades at each level.

Each new grade is separated by 10 percentage points, unlike the 5pp gap between most of the older grades and the corresponding old CAO points, which fell by multiples of five from the second-highest 90 points previously awarded for a higher-level A2.

The A1 grade is the only one with an exact equivalent in the new system.

The SEC said 13 students have achieved eight H1s, which replaces A1 as the new grade for 90% or more in subjects taken at higher level.

Leaving Cert results: Students reap the rewards of exam reform

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