The first Junior Certificate results for English in a reformed junior cycle show some interesting trends in relation to participation and performance,
Although foundation-level Junior Certificate exams are now no longer set for weaker students, the proportion taking ordinary-level English fell from 23% to 21%.
This was because of a big jump in the numbers taking higher level in the new-format examination. Of 60,990 students examined, 48,235, or 79%, did higher level, up from 75% in each of the previous three years.
The results are presented differently to the past, with students no longer awarded, As, Bs, Cs and so on.
Instead, students are awarded one of six grades, from distinction (90% to 100%) to not graded (0% to 20%).
The results reflect the outcome of more than just the final exam taken in June which was a single two-hour paper. Previously there were two papers in English.
For the first time, a second component is also counted towards the Junior Certificate English result. Up to 10% of marks have been given to students for an assessment task which they completed in school.
While the tasks have been marked by the State Examinations Commission just like the written exam, the tasks were undertaken in class under the supervision of their own teachers.
This had to take place in early May for the majority of students, just weeks before the written Junior Certificate exams. This was because of industrial action by the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland in opposition to the reforms, although that action has been lifted following a summer ballot.
Students whose English teachers were not ASTI members did the assessment task last December, having already completed the two classroom-based assessments.
While English was the first subject to be assessed under the revised arrangements, science and business studies will see similar changes for students doing the Junior Certificate in 2019.
The new courses are being taught to current first-year and second-year students, while those who began first year in recent weeks are also learning new curricula in Irish, modern languages and art.
The performance of students, although based on a new course and revised assessment methods, show that more students than last year got marks which were previously categorised as ‘honours’ for an A, B or C grades worth 55% and higher.
While the distinction, higher merit and merit grades do not directly correspond to past grades, the combined proportion of higher level students achieving one of these (over 55%) was nearly 82%.
A year ago, even though a lower proportion of students did higher level and would be expected collectively to be academically stronger, 76% got honours grades.
There was a corresponding drop from 21% to 16% of students with marks between 40% and 55% — previously a D, or pass, but now an “achieved” grade.
The numbers with less than 40% are 2.4%, very similar to the proportions getting similar marks in the previous three years.
Of the 12,755 students who did ordinary-level English, almost half (47%) got a merit or higher, including 2.9% with a distinction for 90% or more.
This story first appeared in the Irish Examiner.