Leaving Certificate Mathematics


Leaving Certificate Mathematics

Leaving Certificate mathematics is the second and final phase of mathematics education at secondary level in the Republic of Ireland. Following on the Junior Certificate mathematics curriculum, it is designed as a two-year course of study at one of three levels: foundation, ordinary, or higher. It culminates with two 150-minute papers during the Leaving Certificate examinations.

A required subject for matriculation at almost all Irish third-level institutions, Leaving Certificate mathematics has been dogged with controversy in recent years due to dwindling enrollment in the higher-level course and poor academic performance in the subject overall. In 2007, more than 40 percent of Leaving Certificate mathematics candidates received 20 or fewer CAO points in the subject, out of a possible 100, with only 12 percent earning 65 points or more.State Examinations Commission statistics, available at http://www.examinations.ie/]

Levels and syllabi

Leaving Certificate mathematics may be taken at foundation, ordinary (sometimes called "pass"), or higher (sometimes called "honours") level, with each level following a separate syllabus. The current syllabi for ordinary- and higher-level mathematics were introduced in September 1992 and were first examined in June 1994.

Foundation-level mathematics was introduced to the curriculum in September 1995 and first examined in June 1997. Intended for students who would otherwise struggle at ordinary level, the foundation-level course fulfills matriculation requirements at most third-level institutions. However, it does not carry any CAO points and generally does not qualify candidates for third-level courses that have mathematics prerequisites. Government ministers have urged greater acceptance of foundation-level mathematics at third level. [http://www.independent.ie/national-news/minister-urges-colleges-to-accept-foundation-maths-83521.html]

Exam participation and results, 2005–08

* In 2005, 52,176 candidates sat the Leaving Certificate mathematics exam, of whom 5,563 (10.6 percent) took the foundation-level papers, 36,772 (70.5 percent) took the ordinary-level papers, and 9,841 (18.9 percent) took the higher-level papers. Among those taking the higher-level papers, 15.7 percent earned an A-grade and 78.3 percent received a C-grade or higher, while 17.6 percent received a D-grade and 4.1 percent failed. Among ordinary-level candidates, 13.3 percent received an A-grade, and 66.6 percent received a C-grade or higher, but 21.5 percent received a D-grade and 11.9 percent failed. At foundation level, 7.5 percent of candidates received an A-grade and 72 percent received a C-grade or higher. Twenty percent received a D-grade and 7.7 percent failed.State Examinations Commission statistics]

* In 2006, 49,235 candidates sat the exam, of whom 5,104 (10.3 percent) took the foundation-level papers, 35,113 (71.4 percent) took the ordinary-level papers, and 9,018 (18.3 percent) took the higher-level papers. Among higher-level candidates, 14.4 percent earned an A-grade and 82.5 percent received a C-grade or higher, while 14.5 percent received a D-grade and 3.2 percent failed. At ordinary level, 11.5 percent of candidates received an A-grade and 65.7 percent received a C-grade or higher, while 22.8 percent received a D-grade and 11.4 percent failed. At foundation level, 7.9 percent of candidates received an A-grade and 73.2 percent received a C-grade or higher, while 20.1 percent received a D-grade and 6.5 percent failed.State Examinations Commission statistics]

* In 2007, 49,043 candidates sat the exam, of whom 5,580 (11.3 percent) took the foundation-level papers, 35,075 (71.6 percent) took the ordinary-level papers, and 8,388 (17.1 percent) took the higher-level papers. At higher-level, 15.4 percent of candidates earned an A-grade and 80.1 percent received a C-grade or higher. Sixteen percent received a D-grade, while 3.9 percent failed. At ordinary level, 13.9 percent of candidates received an A-grade and 67.9 percent received a C-grade or higher, while 20.3 percent received a D-grade and 11.6 percent failed. At foundation level, 9.7 percent of candidates received an A-grade and 75.2 percent received a C-grade or higher, while 18.1 percent received a D-grade and 6.7 percent failed.State Examinations Commission statistics]

* In 2008, 50,116 candidates sat the exam, of whom 5,803 (11.6 percent) took the foundation-level papers, 35,803 (71.4 percent) took the ordinary-level papers, and 8,510 (17 percent) took the higher-level papers. At higher-level, 14.4 percent of candidates earned an A-grade, 82.3 percent received a C-grade or higher, 14.5 percent received a D-grade, while 3.2 percent failed. At ordinary level, 12.5 percent of candidates received an A-grade and 67.4 percent received a C-grade or higher, while 20.5 percent received a D-grade and 12.3 percent failed. At foundation level, 9.8 percent of candidates received an A-grade and 76.6 percent received a C-grade or higher, while 17.6 percent received a D-grade and 5.7 percent failed.State Examinations Commission statistics]

Concerns about student performance

In recent years, educators, industry groups, and politicians have expressed concern about the declining number of students taking the higher-level mathematics course. [http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/breaking/2008/0813/breaking131.html] Only 17.1 percent of Leaving Certificate maths candidates sat the higher-level papers in 2007, down from 18.9 percent two years earlier, and only 13.7 percent of all candidates secured the "honour" (grade C3 or above at higher level) that is a prerequisite for many third-level science, engineering, and technology courses.State Examinations Commission statistics] By contrast, of the 48,455 candidates who took Leaving Certificate English in 2007, 64 percent sat the higher-level papers, and 49 percent of all candidates secured an honour.State Examinations Commission statistics]

Also of concern is the high number of candidates performing poorly in the subject. In 2007, 4,758 candidates failed mathematics at all levels, with the majority of failures (4,055) occurring at ordinary level.State Examinations Commission statistics] By contrast, 1,157 candidates failed English at all levels, with only 588 failing at ordinary level.State Examinations Commission statistics] In 2007, the number of candidates who either sat Leaving Certificate mathematics at foundation level or failed the exam at ordinary or higher level numbered 9,961, or 20.3 percent of the total. These candidates received no CAO points in the subject. A further 10,057 candidates (20.5 percent) received between 5 and 20 points; 12,902 (26.3 percent) received between 25 and 40 points; 10,141 (20.7 percent) received between 45 and 60 points; 3,853 (7.8 percent) received between 65 and 80 points; and 2,129 (4.4 percent) received between 85 and 100 points.State Examinations Commission statistics]

By contrast, only 1,157 candidates, or 2.4 percent of the total, received no CAO points in the Leaving Certificate English exams. While that fact is partly explained by the absence of a foundation-level option in English, the points differential is striking at other levels. A further 12.6 percent of English candidates received between 5 and 20 points in the subject; 17.9 percent received between 25 and 40 points; 25.7 percent received between 45 and 60 points; 30.5 percent received between 65 and 80 points; and 10.9 percent received between 85 and 100 points.State Examinations Commission statistics]

In 2008, the participation rate in higher-level mathematics fell even further to 17.0 percent, while the failure rate at ordinary level increased to 12.3 percent. [http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/opinion/2008/0813/1218477448360.html] State Examinations Commission statistics]

With the OECD's Programme for International Student Assessment ranking Irish teenagers sixteenth out of thirty member countries in mathematics ability, industry leaders have issued stern warnings about the future of Ireland's knowledge economy should mathematics continue to languish at secondary level. [http://www.siliconrepublic.com/news/article/11196/randd/maths-results-dont-add-up] With the backing of business and industry groups, former minister for education Mary Hanafin supported a proposal to give candidates 150 CAO points for an A1 in higher-level maths, instead of the current 100, with the goal of encouraging more candidates to take the higher-level course. [http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/ireland/2008/0814/1218477549588.html] However, her successor Batt O'Keeffe has replaced that proposal with an initiative called "Project Maths" that aims to improve standards in schools, and increase participation in the higher-level course to at least 30 percent, by making mathematics more "user-friendly" and more focused on practical applications. [http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/ireland/article4547947.ece] [http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/ireland/2008/0814/1218477549588.html] New research also suggests that weaknesses in secondary-level mathematics can be traced to lack of support at the primary school level. [http://www.independent.ie/education/latest-news/weaker-pupils-arent-getting-enough-help-with-maths-1465347.html]

Meanwhile, third-level institutions such as NUI Galway, NUI Maynooth, and the Sligo Institute of Technology have instituted their own special examinations that give students who did not make the grade in Leaving Certificate mathematics a second chance to gain entry to courses with prerequisites in the subject. At the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology, students without the requisite Leaving Certificate maths grades can gain entry to all courses except engineering, medical science, and nursing by completing an intensive three-week mathematics course over the summer. [http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/ireland/2008/0821/1219243766779.html]

References

External links

* [http://maths.slss.ie/curriculum.html Leaving Certificate mathematics syllabus]


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