Are the State Examinations Commission Acting Secretly?
Monday, 2nd June 2014
The State Examinations Commission (SEC) is in charge of overseeing the leaving certificate and other state examinations but are they acting secretly in how they do their business? Their job is to manage the state exams. As part of this, they deal with requests from schools for accommodations for some students who need to undertake the exams slightly differently, for example students who become sick, are bereaved, have English as a foreign language or who have a disability or specific learning difficulty.
This year in one school alone, the SEC refused examination accommodations for 17 students with Dyspraxia, a situation mirrored across the country - we do not know the exact number yet. These students have a specific learning difficulty that causes them considerable difficulties when writing, difficulties that make their already poor handwriting skills deteriorate further under pressure and make them unable to endure long periods of sustained hand writing, such as that which occurs in a standard exam situation. The exam accommodation that these 17 particular students have requested is a common enough one - a person to whom they would dictate their answers called a Scribe. This is a long accepted practice that is consistent with the concept of levelling the playing field for these students. After all, they are not being tested for their hand writing skills, but for their knowledge, analysis and actual ability in a particular area.
So why have these students been refused this requested accommodation? On the face of it, these students have met all the published SEC criteria. They have Dyspraxia, they have verified medical reports from Occupational Therapists recommending a scribe in the exam setting, they have the approval of the school and they have all correctly submitted their forms and other documentation before the stated deadline.
Then why? The answer is that it is a secret. We don't know why they have been refused and without an open process, the SEC appear to be making up the rules as they go along. The problem is not the refusals, but rather the lack of transparency in the decision making process. The rules appear to be interpreted idiosyncratically based on their suspicions of the school, the students and the Occupational Therapists reports. Can a state agency afford to be acting with such a lack of transparency in this day and age? In my opinion, no they cannot. Of course they deal with thousands of applications for accommodations and are bound to turn down some, but the point is that the public have the right to know why. What are the criteria - we need to know in advance? The public deserve better.
Executive Director, AHEAD