Dáil Éireann - Volume 669 - 04 December, 2008
Written Answers. - State Examinations.
Deputy Emmet Stagg Deputy Emmet Stagg
Deputy Emmet Stagg asked the Minister for Education and Science his views on ending the practice of exempting students sitting their State exams from grammar and spelling mistakes in view of the need to tackle illiteracy; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [44362/08]
Deputy Batt O’Keeffe Deputy Batt O’Keeffe
Deputy Batt O’Keeffe: Both the Education Act 1998 and the Education for Persons with Special Needs 2004 include a range of provisions to ensure that the educational needs of all students including those with a disability are identified and provided for. In this context, a range of accommodations are provided to enable students with disabilities to access the Certificate examinations. For example enlarged print, Braille translation, modified questions, use of a scribe, a reader, a personal assistant, a tape recorder or word processor, may be allowed depending on needs.
 The scheme was expanded in 2000 following the report of an Expert Advisory Group, to provide opportunities for exemptions where a candidate was not in a position to demonstrate achievement in a specific area of assessment. In keeping with the advice of the Expert Advisory Group and in line with practice at that time in other jurisdictions, a system of annotation was applied to any case where a student was exempt from a specific area of assessment, or where the mode of assessment used had the same effect.
Spelling and grammar waivers in language subjects were provided for students suffering from dyslexia and other learning disabilities on a similar basis with effect from 2001, with annotation of the certificates.
The practice of annotation was the subject of a ruling of the Equality Tribunal in November 2006. The Department appealed the ruling in the Circuit Court, and the Court ruled on 19 October 2007 that the annotation had not discriminated against the students concerned. This ruling is being appealed to the High Court. The State Examinations Commission was asked to undertake a review of policy and practice in this area taking account of best international practice and in March 2007 announced the establishment of an advisory group for this purpose. I understand the report of the Advisory Group has now been finalised and submitted to the State Examinations Commission. The Commissioners are due to meet early in the new year to consider the Report, and will forward it to me after that with their advice.
I have no plans for change in this area, pending full examination of the Advisory Group’s report and consideration of the views of the State Examinations Commission and the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment. The current curricula in languages make it clear that spelling and grammar are essential elements of language subjects and are assessed as part of the examinations. The marks awarded to this area are not disproportionate. For example, in English in the Leaving Certificate, some 10% of the overall marks are applied to this area under the heading of “accuracy of mechanics”.
In regard to literacy generally, it should be noted that the OECD PISA study (Programme for International Student Assessment) of 15 years olds in 56 countries undertaken in 2006 showed that Ireland ranked 6th in Reading overall and 5th out of 29 OECD countries. Only one EU country, Finland, achieved a higher mean score than Ireland in reading.
Dáil Éireann 669 Written Answers. State Examinations.