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Judges' role looms for wary teachers;Briefing;International


Leaked document reveals move to get away from external assessment and too many written exams, reports John Walshe

A leaked report has revealed that the government plans to introduce teacher assessment into the state exams for 15 and 16-year-olds, but predicts union opposition.

Ireland is unique in that exams taken during the secondary years are assessed wholly externally .

The report, prepared by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment, severely criticises the Junior Certificate, a largely written exam taken after three years in secondary school. The report says that the current reliance on terminal assessment, and an over-emphasis on written examinations has resulted in imbalances.

There are optional orals in the language subjects but these are taken by a derisory number of students, ranging from 0.1 per cent in English to 2.2 per cent in German.

There is no assessment of practicals or projects in science subjects. Assessment of project work is an option in geography, but is chosen by only 0.1 per cent of students.

The council says that some teachers are unaware that these options even exist. And those that want to offer them to pupils are given no training or support.

More oral and practical assessment is wanted, but the council treads cautiously around the controversial issue of who should conduct them.

If the council had recommended that teachers assess their own students' work immediately, the idea would almost certainly have been rejected by the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland.

The council recognises the concerns of many Irish teachers who fear that the credibility, status and integrity of the Junior Certificate obtained might be undermined if they were to submit marks for their own students. They are also worried that teachers would be seen as "judges" of, rather than "advocates" for, their own students.

"Some teachers have concerns that they might be open to accusations of bias and possible pressure from parents given the high stakes nature of the examinations," the council says.

It wants the idea of a wider range of assessment methods accepted first and says that initially the extra assessment should be done externally - by teachers from other schools - on a pilot basis.

A later phase might focus on school-based assessment and "might look at how components of an examination could be assessed in schools by teachers in a school, or by the students' own teachers".

This, however, would not initially be done in the context of national certification and the report suggests that perhaps in December 2001 the position should be reviewed.

While ASTI members are reluctant to introduce school-based assessment, the smaller Teachers' Union of Ireland has no such concerns. Its members are willing to consider such work subject to conditions - appropriate remuneration, time to do the work, training and externalmonitoring.

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