Agricultural Science Exam Update
I wrote an email this morning to the Chief Examiner for Agricultural Science for the State Examinations Commission, (not pictured - that's a cow) highlighting my concerns about yesterday's Leaving Certificate Agricultural Science exam paper. I stressed that the exam simply did not reflect what was on the syllabus and I urged him to reform the paper and his drafting team. I understand that he is not from an agricultural background and has little experience in the subject, thus must trust his drafters to produce a paper that will accurately assess the syllabus and the pupil learning. I urged him to form a new drafting team that will accurately reflect the syllabus (outdated as it is) in future exams.
I do not know who his current drafters are. I presume they are teachers of Agricultural Science. I might be so bold as to presume they are "experienced" Agricultural Science teachers. They probably starting teaching the subject when the syllabus was new. They most likely are farmers or are from a farming background and they most likely teach (if they are still teaching or taught if they are not) pupils from farming backgrounds. Thus they are likely able to keep up to date with new farming practices (like zero grazing which was asked in yesterday's exam). But they are not typical Agricultural Science teachers and the pupils they teach are not typical Agricultural Science pupils. We should be proud that our subject has increased in popularity and the majority of pupils sitting the exam now are from urban backgrounds (one of my pupils is from Los Angeles). We should not be ashamed that bright urban pupils are now taking the subject up and obtaining excellent grades. We should be glad that there is a greater understanding of how food is produced amongst the non-farming communities. We should be glad that the work of the farmer goes noticed for a change. We should not punish these pupils for taking an interest by inserting questions outside the scope of the syllabus. Someone wrote in today's Irish Times that:
"In an interesting twist, a question about the index of calving difficulty in question seven, would have rewarded students who took an interest in, and kept up to date with farming matters."
I'm sorry, but you can't put something on a Leaving Certificate Exam that is beyond the scope of the syllabus - we have an assessment of practical coursework that does that!
I would imagine a large proportion of today's Agricultural Science teachers are also from urban backgrounds. They are busy people, who might find it difficult to keep up to date with advances in agricultural practices. They follow the syllabus stringently, produce comprehensive notes and cover every square inch of the textbook. But they feel dejected when the exam doesn't reflect the content of their lessons. The goal posts are shifted! The syllabus expands annually. They must rewrite their notes.
I was speaking to a teacher today who said he might not encourage pupils to take up Agricultural Science in the future due to the inherent lack of fairness in the examination. Is that what the SEC want? Surely not but this is what is happening. I cover every inch of the course (or what I perceive the course to be) and I warn my pupils that every year there will be questions in the exam that they won't be able to do - I might not be able to do. Is this fairness.?No. All we want is fairness.
I have not received anything back from the Chief Examiner as of yet. If I do I will inform you all. I also Cc'd the email to the Tánaiste and Minister for Education and Skills, Mary Coughlan. I doubt I will hear back from her either. There is a review of the exam paper taking place in Athlone next Tuesday in the Hodson Bay Hotel from 1pm. Many members of IASTA will be present and I can imagine there will be a concerted opinion on the paper. I hope so.