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Assessment and Diversity in Irish Schools

Citation: Burns, D., Brown, M., McNamara, G. and O’Hara, J. (2017) Summary of Assessment and Diversity in Irish Schools. Dublin: EQI – The Centre for Evaluation Quality and Inspection
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This summary of the literature review of assessment in Ireland includes, firstly, the assessment system in Ireland at secondary level and the main issues addressed in assessment literature in Ireland relevant to culturally responsive assessment. Secondly, the summary includes the literature survey of culturally responsive assessment in the United States.  

This study adopts a definition for “Culture” that is described as a “cognitive” approach to culture because the project concerns the elements of culture related to “thinking, teaching, learning and making meaning” (Citing Fetterman, Trumbull and Rothstein-Fisch, 2008, p. 3). The project is concerned with cultural dimensions to ways of knowing, epistemology, world-view, beliefs and values. The term “culturally responsive” is interpreted to mean sensitive to, respectful of, taking cognisance of, cultural variations in ways of thinking/knowing, learning, making meaning, values and beliefs.  

Assessment at Secondary Level

Students commence 1st Year of secondary after an eight-year cycle of primary schooling, so students are about 12 years of age when entering secondary which consists of three years of Junior cycle, an optional transition year and two years of Senior cycle.

At the end of Junior cycle, students are awarded a Certificate which is equal to level 2 of the European Qualifications Framework.   Currently, the Junior Certificate is awarded based on national examinations that are set and administered by the State Examinations Commission.  Assessment in Junior cycle is currently undergoing change which is being phased in gradually commencing with one subject in 2016/2017 and will be introduced in all subjects in 2022.  The reform includes two classroom-based assessments which will be reported on the Certificate separately from the results of the State examinations.

At the end of the Senior cycle, students are awarded a Leaving Certificate which is considered to be level 3 in the European Qualifications Framework. Proposals for reform of assessment in the Leaving Certificate were published in 2004 but have not been implemented.  The established Leaving Certificate (followed by the vast majority of students), for which most students study seven subjects, is assessed externally by the State Examinations Commission, mainly with final written examinations.  

In both Senior and Junior cycle, Teachers use informal and formal assessment and reports of formal assessments are distributed to parents.  In 3rd and 6th Year students typically sit “Mock” examinations in preparation for the State examinations.  Ireland participates in the international standardised assessments of PISA and TIMSS.  

Media coverage of educational issues in Ireland is extensive.  Media interest in the written examination papers each year is intense and proposals for reform of national assessment are debated in the media.  

Issues relevant to Culturally responsive Assessment

The aspiration to respect diversity is enshrined in Irish educational legislation since 1998.  Ireland has two significant reports: one published in 2006 by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment on guidelines for schools for intercultural education, including a chapter on assessment.  In 2010 the Department of Education and Skills published a strategy for intercultural education from 2010 to 2015.  These publications were prompted by the sudden changing demographic in Ireland since the increase in significant immigration that commenced in the late 1990s but has slowed since 2008.  The 2006 document emphasises that all students be enriched by diversity and that minority students be valued with equal respect and opportunity.     The report acknowledges the ways that cultural or language factors can give rise to errors in assessment and makes recommendations for assessment to minimise potential errors.  

Research on the experience of migrant students in Ireland over the past 15 or so years points to: a school system unprepared for the influx, inadequate systems for recording data, difficulties in accessing schools and gaining appropriate placements in year levels and programmes.  The research also suggests that migrant students have high motivation and educational aspirations.  


Research in Ireland suggests there are limitations of the national assessment of the State examination in the Leaving Certificate, in the claims that it promotes rote learning and measures a narrow range of lower-order skills. Literature on school-based assessment encourages a range of assessment methods that are alternatives to the traditional written test, such as performance-based, peer and self-assessment, portfolio and e-portfolio assessments.  


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