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Leaving Cert reform may be delayed over cheat risks

February 14, 2024

Original Article:

Schools will need to revamp student assessments to cope with the ‘implications’ of Artificial Intelligence (AI), Education Minister Norma Foley has been warned.

In internal briefing documents for Ms Foley obtained by the Irish Daily Mail, officials examining reform of the Leaving Cert syllabus say the process has become ‘more challenging than could have been originally envisaged’ and that ‘different assessment arrangements will have to be considered’.

Education authorities have been grappling to preserve the integrity of exams and assessments in the face of advances in technology.

Previously, online study guides and sample answers could easily be used to check for plagiarism. But with the advances in technology brought by AI, efforts to cheat by students are becoming almost undetectable.

Now, tools such as ChatGPT, which can generate answers in the style of an 18-year-old student, pose major challenges globally. A progress report by the Senior Cycle Redevelopment Programme Delivery Board in July notes that there is a ‘diversity of views concerning how assessment’ should be conducted in the face of ‘rapid advancement in AI’.

The expert group was appointed by Ms Foley to examine Leaving Cert reform.

The report notes: ‘Developments in AI have led some to construe that the use of authentic school-based assessment would be more challenging in a context where AI is accessible to students.’

It adds that some consider the technology has made ‘the use of innovative assessment approaches more necessary (and more feasible) than ever at upper secondary level’.

The board is chaired by Harold Hislop, former chief inspector at the Department of Education and current Adjunct Professor at the School of Policy and Practice at Dublin City University (DCU).

The report says the task of reforming the second-level syllabus, in which it was envisioned there would be fewer exams and more emphasis on continuous assessments to reduce stress on students, is more challenging than was first thought because of the technology, and planned reforms could be delayed as a result.

The report says discussions regarding assessment are ‘likely to be prolonged and perhaps even more challenging than could have been originally envisaged’, adding: ‘The Delivery Board specu- lates that it will be very difficult to finalise the guidance concerning assessment that is to be given to NCCA Subject Development Groups by September 21, 2023.’

The advice received by Ms Foley favoured continuing with the reform while further assessing the impact of AI.

The Redevelopment Programme Delivery Board warned that while it was on track to implement new subject specifications for the next academic term, changes to exams will be needed.

Ms Foley’s officials wrote: ‘Different assessment arrangements will have to be considered than those originally envisaged, at least in the initial stages.’

The officials suggested ‘a combination of terminal examinations and additional components, the latter to be marked externally to the student’s school’ could be used to mitigate against the advances in AI.

‘This would allow the current detailed discussions on more innovative assessment arrangements and school- based assessment to progress in parallel with research to be conducted on the implication of Artificial Intelligence and its potential use in the assessment of a wide range of students’ skills and competences,’ they wrote.

The development board seemed to favour this, noting that if this option were taken, ‘significant progress’ in redeveloping the Leaving Certificate could be achieved ‘in line with the original timetable’.

It said: ‘Outdated curricula could be revised, the assessment load for students could be spread across the two years of senior cycle, a somewhat wider range of skills could be assessed through well-designed additional components; and student stress could be reduced considerably as originally set out by the minister.’


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