Leaving Cert history students denied grade for plagiarising online material

A handful of students tried to cheat in last year’s Leaving Certificate history exam by using material copied straight out of online articles for their research projects.

Concerns have been raised about plagiarism by examiners who mark the subject at higher level, in which 20% of all marks are awarded for a research study report (RSR). This is completed by students before the end of April and kept at the school until the written exam in June, when both sets of work are sent to the State Examinations Commission to be corrected together.

The chief examiner’s report on 2011 Leaving Certificate History, published yesterday, revealed that five students were not given any grade in the subject because of plagiarism in their research reports.

“This year, several RSRs were found to have been copied verbatim from articles in online encyclopaedias and the candidates in question had not even listed those sites as their source,” the chief examiner wrote.

“The SEC regulations require that the candidate and his or her teacher authenticate that the RSR is the candidate’s own individual work. All candidates should be aware that the onus is on them to present original research,” the report said.

The last such evaluation of student performance in Leaving Certificate History in 2006 raised no concerns about plagiarism. However, it is unclear if the problem is a new one or if examiners are better equipped to detect plagiarism.

Asked if the issue raises questions about the reliance on teachers to authenticate their own students’ work, a spokesperson for the SEC said the fact that results were withheld from just five out of almost 8,000 higher level history students suggests it is not a problem.

“Where suspicions arise, it is referred back to the school and a student is given a chance to explain. In some instances, we are satisfied with the explanation and a result is issued, or where we are not satisfied, we withhold a result.”

The report also praised the widening range of topics chosen by students for their research reports, in which they must focus as much on evaluating their sources and reflecting on their work as on the actual content. The topics chosen last year covered a time span from classical Greece to the 1980s.

A “refreshing number of new topics” included:

* Rock-and-roll and teenage life as a 1950s American sociological phenomenon;

* The second Anglo-Afghan war; and

* The West Clare Railway.

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