“Assessment is about gathering, interpreting and using information about the processes and outcomes of learning.” (NCCA. 2003)
There is a legal obligation on schools to assess the effectiveness of the teaching and learning process and to report learning outcomes to parents/guardians – “Principal and teachers shall regularly evaluate students and periodically report the results of the evaluation to the students and their parents” [Article 22 (2(b)), Education Act 1998]
Assessment is an integral part of the teaching process. It is an essential first step, in so far as the teacher’s assessment of the state of knowledge and preparedness of the student will guide the teacher’s methodology. Ongoing assessment will continue to inform the teacher of the effectiveness of the teaching and learning process and will be a continuous guide to the appropriateness and effectiveness of methodology and practice.
Reporting the outcomes of assessment serves as a guide to the student and his/her parents/guardians in relation to learning progress or regression. Reporting of satisfactory progress may serve as a source of encouragement and a spur to greater efforts, while reporting of unsatisfactory progress can act as a salutary warning to effect remedial action in an appropriate way.
Terminal examinations, such as Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate and examinations designed to prepare for them are based on national norms and questions may be drawn from the entire syllabus. The syllabus content of each subject is set by the Department of Education and Skills and, by and large, determines the essential material content of lessons. Teaching methodologies are strongly influenced by the structure of the assessment process used in these terminal examinations. For example, oral work, field work, research project, written and aural comprehension etc.
In Colaiste Eanna, as well as focusing on material relevant to terminal examinations, teachers engage in a broad range of teaching strategies and methodologies which provide our students with a deep appreciation of their respective subject areas. Ongoing in-house assessment blends assessment in the format of terminal examinations with measures of achievement in the broader understanding and appreciation of individual academic and practical disciplines.
It is school policy at Colaiste Eanna to encourage and support ongoing assessment as part of the teaching and learning process. In this regard, there will be a clear calendar of reporting students’ progress to parents/guardians (see below).
As part of ongoing assessment, teachers are expected to keep an account of the progress of students in the variety of tasks which may occur in the teaching/learning process. This variety will take account of the range of skills appropriate to the subject and level in question. Among others, these skills might include oral expression, listening comprehension, textual analysis, research ability, manual dexterity, imaginative composition (written and materials based) numerical ability, computation skills and graphic comprehension. This list is not exhaustive and merely suggests a range of skills which teachers develop and assess through homework, class work, assignments and projects.
Teachers are also encouraged to use the journal, formal and informal meetings with parents, the merit system (Positive Attitude in Colaiste Eanna – PACE) and other means to report to students and parents on this ongoing assessment process.
The following structure and calendar of events applies to formal assessment and reporting:
Incoming First Years:
All incoming first years undergo formal assessment of verbal and numerical proficiency during April/May preceding initial enrolment. Using established assessment instruments, school personnel identify students from this cohort who may lag behind their peer group and make recommendations to the Principal in relation to the provision of Learning Support. The findings from these assessments are strictly confidential and are used for no purpose other than the identification of learning challenges.
All classes in first year are formed on a mixed ability and random basis but streaming does take place in the case of Irish during the first term
During Autumn and Spring, Mid-Term Assessments take place. These are conducted in the classroom. The Autumn assessments take place in October and results are posted to the homes of students before the close of school for Mid-Term Break. The Spring assessments take place in February or March, depending on the proximity of Easter to the February Mid-Term and the Summer vacation period. Again, results are posted to the homes of students.
In cases where there have been marked under-performances by individual students, the Year Head and/or the Deputy Principal/ Principal may engage with the student in relation to their attitude to their studies and encourage improvement.
Formal examinations take place in mid/late December (the Christmas Exams) and in late May/early June (the Summer Exams). Reports, with teacher comments, where appropriate, will be posted to the homes of students in Mid-January and Mid-June. Results of all of these assessments are recorded and stored in the school’s computerized system and are available to authorized personnel only.
The duration of these examinations will be:
First Years: Examinations will be of one and a half hour duration for all subjects except CSPE, Art and Materials Technology Wood, for which they will be of one hour duration, and Technical Graphics, for which they will of two hour duration. First year students are allowed a thirty minute study period in their examination venue prior to the commencement of exams. This does not apply in the case of CSPE and Practicals, where the exams are of one hour duration and run back-to-back.
In general, formal assessment in Transition Year follows a Trimester format, with assessments taking place in Mid-November, Mid- February and Mid-May. These assessments are generally one and a half hour in duration.
Reports are posted to the homes of students in relation to these assessments and results are recorded in the school’s computerized system and available to authorized personnel only.
Other sources of assessment and affirmation in Transition Year include participation in the Gaisce Award Scheme, ECDL, First Aid and participation in special projects and reports from work experience.
All examinations will be of two hour duration. Reports are posted to the homes of students in relation to these assessments and results are recorded in the school’s computerized system and available to authorized personnel only.
Assessment in Third Year and Sixth Year:
Assessment for Third Years and Sixth Years follows the same format as that for Non- Examination classes for October and December and are treated in the same manner in terms of reporting to parents and recording measures of achievement.
In February, normally straight after the Spring Mid-Term, Pre-Junior Certificate and Pre-Leaving Certificate Examinations (The Mocks) are held. These examinations will resemble the Junior and Leaving Certificate examinations proper to the maximum extent possible. In general, examination papers will be externally sourced. These examinations will include aural components at both Junior and Leaving Certificate levels and will include orals at Leaving Certificate level for those students wishing to participate.
Where Psychological Assessments recommend that students receive Reasonable Accommodations in State Examinations, Colaiste Eanna will make every effort possible to extend this facility to those students in `The Mocks`. This will be determined by the financial and personnel resources available to the school at that particular time.
Formal reports will be posted home and results will be recorded and stored in the school’s computerized system and available to authorized personnel only.
Since external assessment for both Junior and Leaving Certificate begins in April no further school based formal assessment takes place. However the teacher’s own assessment record is of vital importance in guiding the students’ preparation.
The Junior and Leaving Certificate Examinations will be conducted in early June by the State Examinations Commission under the aegis of the Department of Education & Skills.
Development Issues Arising
Students and parents have little opportunity to assess students’ academic progress against an established benchmark until the Junior Certificate at the end of Third Year. There is a strong case for the introduction of some elements of common assessment at a much earlier stage. While it may be argued, with some validity, that each teacher is unique and each student is unique, it is a fact that students face a common examination based on a prescribed programme in the Junior Certificate. It should be feasible to gradually approach this norm from First Year onwards. There are difficulties in managing this approach but the difficulty would appear to be outweighed by the benefits. One particular benefit would be the coherence, which could be achieved through the years of the cycle. Having clearly defined targets for each year would greatly facilitate students changing class and teachers taking up a class in mid-cycle.
This approach is being piloted in some subject areas at present in Colaiste Eanna
The Conduct of Examinations:
In order that school examinations (a) have a validity and integrity and (b) that they serve as a preparation for other more formal occasions, it is essential that in-school examinations be well administered.
To this end: