Continuous Assessment, Grade Inflation and the Leaving Cert

The figure below shows the exam and CA marks for two of my third year modules in DCU for the last three years. The blue data is for a rather mathematical module for which the CA is worth 20% of the module marks. Two of us teach into the module and both of our CAs involve in-class tests. The red data is for a module for which the CA (also worth 20%) involves a short discussion-type assignment for my half of the module and a group presentation for my colleague’s half.

ca

For the ‘blue’ module (the mathematical one) the standard deviation of the CA marks is pretty much the same as that of the exam marks. However the average CA mark is 12% higher than the average exam mark.

For the ‘red’ module (the less mathematical one) the standard deviation of the CA marks is less than half that of the exam marks while the average CA mark is about 14% higher than the average exam mark. This bunching of CA marks is a common feature of non-mathematical subjects.

Two points can be taken from this. Firstly, the inclusion of continuous assessment elements in many modules these days is probably a factor in so-called “grade inflation”.

Secondly and given that the Leaving Cert is likely to remain the de facto entrance exam for college for the foreseeable future, great care will have to be taken if and when continuous assessment elements are incorporated into a revamped Senior Cycle. As it is, the grade distributions for Leaving Cert subjects vary quite a bit and unless there are well defined marking schemes for continuous assessment components, schemes that allow the examiners to award marks across the full 0-100% range, even for project work, those grade distributions could become even more disparate.

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