Curriculum and Assessment
The curriculum for Ireland’s primary and post-primary schools is determined by the Minister for Education and Science who is advised by the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment. The curriculum sets out not only what is to be taught, but how, and how learning in the particular subject area is to be assessed.
While Ireland has a centrally devised curriculum, there is a strong emphasis on school and classroom planning. At school level, the particular character of the school makes a vital contribution to shaping the curriculum in classrooms. Adaptation of the curriculum to suit the individual school is achieved through the preparation and continuous updating of a school plan. The selection of text books and classroom resources to support the implementation of the curriculum is made by schools, rather than by the Department of Education and Skills or the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment.
Assessment is that part of the learning process where the learner and the teacher can evaluate progress or achievement in the development of a particular skill, or in the understanding of a particular area of knowledge. In the early years, such assessment is generally informal based on observation by a parent/guardian or early learning practitioner.
In primary school, this informal observation is supplemented by a range of assessment tools including teacher-designed tests and tasks, project work and portfolios across the curriculum. Standardised tests in reading and mathematics are also widely used in primary schools. In post-primary schools the state examinations - the Junior Certificate and Leaving Certificate examinations - are also used to evaluate achievement across the curriculum.
Assessment generates important information about how a learner is progressing. This information can be shared with the leaner in the form of feedback which should help the learner to become more aware of their own strengths and weaknesses, and identify next steps and strategies for improvement. The information is also important for teacher planning. Assessment information can help a teacher to choose the right resource materials for a learner or for a class, and to plan and structure the learning to meet the different needs of different learners. Assessment information is also important for parents, and is reported to them as part of all schools’ reporting process.
Another type of assessment - screening or diagnostic assessment – is also useful, especially in the early years of primary school. If a parent or teacher suspects that a child may have a specific difficulty, or if the child is not progressing as well as their peers, the learning support or class teacher may use a special test or series of tests that provided more detailed information for the teacher and the parents about the child’s learning needs.