One of the purported aims of the new Leaving Cert grading and points-awarding system (in the news today) was to “take the heat out of the CAO system”. The argument was that by having fewer grade bands, students would be under less pressure to scramble for every point to get to the next grade and earn more points. But that neglected the likelihood that students would scramble for every point to ensure they don’t drop out of a grade band.
The same sort of thinking encouraged football leagues to move from a 2-points-for- a win-system to a 3- points-for-a- win system quite a few years ago now. The thinking was that having three points for a win would encourage teams to play more attacking football. But it was forgotten that opposing teams, especially those playing away from home, might well adopt a more defensive approach to stop the home team getting three rather than two points. The net effect? Nothing. Below is a plot that represents the current state of play in the Premier League. It’s a plot of the points each team would have if a two-point rule were adopted versus current points based on the three point rule.
There are only four places where the rule has made a difference in ranking: three in which a team below has drawn level with the team above and only one where the team below leapfrogs the one above. (Chelsea would go ahead of Spurs.)
Meddling with grades and bands was never going to change much – at least not for the better. The Leaving will always be a high-stakes, high-pressure exam as long as it is the de facto entrance exam for college and as long as we continue to push third level education.