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Continuous assessment bad for education

EDUCATION Minister Ruairi Quinn is (predictably) calling for a drastic revision of our examination system, with a big increase of in continuous assessment, at the very time when our neighbour to the east is taking steps to go back to exams.

A senior minister in England called this year for the abandonment of continuous assessment.

The fatal problems of continuous assessment are obvious. Exams are (obviously) not perfect, but they are completely fair if they are externally marked. Our State Exams Commission has developed a procedure that is as close to foolproof as could be imagined. Project work cannot possibly be guaranteed as the genuine work of the pupil, unless it is done under supervision, which turns it back into an examination. For “assessment” during the year, teachers are under great pressure to “help” their pupils, and end up doing more work than the pupils themselves.

But perhaps the worst result is that, the moment assessment (which also includes in-school marking of pupils’ exams) is carried out by the school instead of anonymously, parents and employers will look, not at the score on a printed certificate, but at the reputation of the school itself. In the desire to be egalitarian, this thinking leads straight back to the elitism that they were trying to avoid. This was obvious from the beginning to the majority of teachers in England, but the government steamrollered it all in anyway, with only derisory consultation of the teachers themselves (after all, what would they know about teaching?) not to mention a mountain of bureaucratic paperwork and a heavy-handed inspection process that exhausted teachers’ energies and greatly hindered their actual teaching. I taught there for many years, and it was a wonderful relief to return to Ireland and sanity in the classroom. How disappointing to see our politicians repeating these mistakes, decades after the experience of other countries proves their failure.

M Ó Fearghail, BSc (hons) Dip Ed
Co Cork


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