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Posted 17 September 2010

UCD Academic Council introduces bonus points for maths for 4 year trial

The UCD Academic Council today took the decision to introduce bonus CAO points for Leaving Certificate Higher Level Mathematics for a trial period of four years, commencing 2012.

The precise scheme for the award of additional points will be decided in the coming weeks following consultation with other universities and the objective is to have a single scheme for all those institutions awarding bonus points.

In announcing the decision to pilot bonus points for Leaving Certificate Higher Level Mathematics, the UCD Deputy President and Vice-President for Academic Affairs, Dr Philip Nolan stated:

“We believe that increasing mathematics attainment at second and third level is essential and that bonus points is likely to increase the uptake of higher mathematics. For this reason the Academic Council has decided to pilot the measure for four years from 2012.

However, it will only be successful if it is part of a suite of measures to interest students in mathematics, to ensure the best possible teaching and to support student learning. The Minister must ensure that all students have equal access to higher mathematics and that it is available in all Schools. We will research the impact of bonus points to ensure it is equitable and effective.

Finally, we think the Minister should re-examine how mathematics is assessed, in order to reduce the perception that it is risky to take higher mathematics or that a student’s time would be better spent optimising their performance in other subjects. There is merit in the idea that the examination should be split in two parts, one testing basic mathematical competency, which if passed would secure a pass overall and entry to third level, and another to test advanced mathematics ability. If these wider issues are not tackled, bonus points alone will be less than effective.”

UCD recognises that there is a need to improve attainment in mathematics and to incentivise students to engage with mathematics at second level. While bonus points may provide such an incentive, the initiative will only succeed if it is part of a range of measures to enhance mathematics education.

UCD believes that the introduction of bonus points will be successful only if

  • the Minister takes measures to ensure that all second level students have equal access to quality mathematics teaching and that all schools are able to support students who wish to study mathematics at higher level;

  • ongoing curricular reform addresses the needs of students at ordinary and foundation level as well as higher level, and in particular addresses the needs of the 4,000 students per annum who currently fail mathematics;

  • efforts are made to enhance the training and professional development of mathematics teachers.

UCD will introduce bonus points for a trial period, and during this time will work with the university sector, with Government, and with other stakeholders, to research the impact of this initiative. The questions to be answered in this research include:

  • How much time, compared to other subjects and compared to other students internationally do students spend on mathematics?

  • What is the impact of bonus points on the uptake of higher level mathematics?

  • Do bonus points have an effect on equity of access to third level?

UCD would want to be satisfied, at the end of the pilot period, that bonus points for higher mathematics has equitably improved overall uptake and attainment. But, the university identified three dangers.

The first is that bonus points may contribute to increased competition, or a worsening ‘points race’, for high-points courses, and increase uptake only amongst students interested in such courses and not the population generally.

The second is that students who do not require high points for entry to their chosen course might not see bonus points as much of an incentive to persist with higher level mathematics.

The third is that higher level mathematics would not be available to some students, particularly in schools in poorer areas, and that this would worsen access to university.

Finally, the awarding of bonus points does not address issue of students’ perceptions of the risks of failure associated with taking the higher level paper. While only 16% of Leaving Certificate students take the higher level paper on the day of the examination almost 40% of students register with the State Examination Commission to take the paper. This means that, relatively close to the examination, and having engaged with higher level mathematics for some time, students drop to ordinary level, because they are concerned that they will perform poorly or fail at higher level, and see the ordinary level examination as a lower risk option.

“We urge the Minister to consider fundamental reforms in the assessment of mathematics at Leaving Certificate,” Dr Nolan said, “perhaps with students doing one examination to demonstrate basic mathematical competence which if passed would secure a pass overall and entry to third level, and a second to demonstrate advanced mathematical abilities. This would be much better than having to choose between a high-risk, high-return higher level and a lower-risk ordinary level paper.”


(Produced by UCD University Relations)


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UCD Academic Council introduces bonus points for maths for 4 year trial
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