FOR STUDENTS AND PARENTS
The state examinations, sometimes called the “certificate examinations”, are the Leaving Certificate examinations, the Junior Certificate examinations, and the final examinations in the new Junior Cycle. These examinations are run by the State Examinations Commission on behalf of the Minister for Education and Skills.
The Examinations Commission makes arrangements that allow students with special educational needs, such as those caused by visual impairments or dyslexia, to access the state examinations on an equal basis with other students.
Deciding what is needed
Not all students with a learning or physical difficulty will need to have special access arrangements made for them. The examinations are designed to be as accessible as possible for all students. It is normal that anxiety caused by examinations can interfere with your ability to read and concentrate. Every attempt is made to overcome this by making the language used in the examinations as clear and straightforward as it can be, and by using a well-designed layout. Sometimes it is necessary to use difficult words or phrases because they are important words used in the subject and your ability to understand and use these words is part of what we are testing. But apart from this, the papers as made as easy to read as possible. In particular, the language in the examinations is easier to read than what you will find in a typical textbook for the subject.
Because of this, even if you have some difficulty with reading, you still may not need any special arrangement for your examinations. Only if your reading ability falls below a certain level will you need reading assistance in the examination. Your school will be able to carry out the necessary tests to check this.
Likewise, if you have very poor handwriting or spelling, you may be worried that this will prevent the examiners from reading and understanding your work. The State Examinations Commission examiners are very well practised at reading all manner of poor handwriting. Also, in subjects where spelling is not an important part of what is being tested, the examiners will ignore spelling mistakes and instead focus on the meaning of what you are trying to say. Because of this, your writing or spelling would have to fall far below average before it would interfere with your ability to communicate well enough with the examiner. As with reading, your school will be able to carry out the necessary tests to check this.
Purpose of examination access arrangements
The purpose of the examination in each subject is to test how well you have mastered the course set out for that subject. Each course is described in a document called a syllabus or subject specification. This states what you are supposed to know and be able to do at the end of the course. The purpose of the examination is to test how well you know and can do these things.
Sometimes, a disability or other condition can interfere with the way that the examination does this. Generally, this happens in one of two ways. Either the condition interferes with your ability to understand what you are being asked to do, or it interferes with your ability to show that you can do it.
For example, suppose that you have a condition that prevents you from reading and understanding printed words. This could be because of a visual impairment or because of a learning difficulty like dyslexia. Unless the point of the examination is to test how well you can read, then the State Examinations Commission should not let this condition stop you from showing the State Exams Commission what you can do. The SEC will therefore make arrangements to allow you to overcome this barrier. The SEC will provide a person to read the examination paper to you or help you to read it yourself, or you may be allowed to use assistive technology you usually use to access printed words, such as magnifiers or screen readers.
You will still be expected to demonstrate the same standard of achievement as other students. It is only the way you do it that is different. The arrangements cannot be allowed to make it easier for you than for everyone else to do whatever is being tested. Except in certain cases that are explained later, you still have to show all of the same skills related to the course as everyone else does. This ensures that your grade can be directly compared to everyone else’s and have the same meaning. This makes the examinations fair for all.
Reasonable accommodations that can be made available to students with S.E.N. when sitting State examinations
• Reader/ Reading Assistance
• Use of a Recording Device or Word Processor/Laptop /Vision Aids (Assistive technology)
• Access to a Scribe
• Enlarged examination papers
• Modified examination papers
• Braille examination paper
• Colour identifier – Geography only.
• Preferred location within the centre
• Personal sound device in main centre
• Special centre for aural examination
• Modified aural examination
• Oral for hearing-impaired candidates
• Exemption from the aural component
• Exemption from the oral component
• Sign language interpreter
• Drawing aids
• Exemption from Practical Test or Project in Junior Cert. Home Economics
• Hospital or other location
• Special desk or chair
• Movement within the centre
• Access to medicine, food and drink
• Practical helper – can assist but cannot help you use the tools.
• Supervised rest breaks and breaks for medical attention
• Timetable adjustment
• Waiver from the assessment of spelling, grammar and punctuation in the language subjects
Exemptions and waivers can only be granted where the elements involved are not core elements of the course. This has two aspects, as follows: (a) an element could be core because it makes up such a large part of the course that, if we leave it out, there is not enough left to properly test what the course was meant to be about. (b) an element could be core because it is so important to the study of the subject or so interlinked with other aspects that to exempt it from assessment would undermine the credibility and integrity of the examination.
If you have a disability or condition that prevents you from developing or demonstrating some skills that might be considered important in a certain subject, it is critical that you find out early whether or not these skills can be exempted or waived. If they cannot, and if you choose to take this subject anyway, then you will forfeit the marks for these skills and this will limit the grade that you can get. Unfortunately, even if your difficulty is due to an injury or other problem that you did not know about when you started the course, you still cannot get an exemption from core elements of a course.
Getting the RACE you need
All special access arrangements must be handled by your school. The State Examinations Commission cannot accept an application directly from you or your parents. This is because the decisions about what arrangements are appropriate are not just based on the nature of your disability or condition. They are also based on how the condition affects your work in school from day to day, what normally happens in school to help you overcome any difficulties caused by the condition, and what effect these everyday arrangements have on your ability to demonstrate your learning in school examinations or other kinds of assessment. As far as possible, the examination arrangements should reflect your normal way of working in school, or be a natural extension of it.
Any special arrangement that you are not used to could make the situation worse rather than better. For example, suppose that you have a condition that prevents you from writing properly by hand. This would hinder you not only in a written examination but also in your everyday work in school. The SEC would expect that there would already be arrangements in school to help you overcome this barrier. For example, you might be allowed to use a laptop in class and for your homework when other students are writing by hand. In the state examinations, it would probably not be appropriate for you to use a scribe (a person who writes down what you say). This is because it does not make sense to have an arrangement that you are not used to, when there is already an acceptable arrangement that you are used to – namely, using your laptop. Also, arrangements that allow you to work independently are always preferred over ones that make you dependent on another person, as this reflects best practice in school and beyond.
Another reason that your application needs to be handled by your school is that the conditions for granting some accommodations rely on test results and other evidence that your school can gather and interpret.
Your school will have at least one person who handles the applications from the school. This person is usually the S.E.N. Co-ordinator. They will have a good understanding of the arrangements that are possible and appropriate in various cases. In most cases, the SEC would also expect them to have a good understanding of your learning needs and how these needs are being met in the school. They will consult other teachers, as needed, to be sure. Long before the examinations, they will be forming a view about the best match between the arrangements that are possible under our scheme and your needs.
Well before the examinations, the school will formally apply to the State Examinations Commission to grant you the accommodations you need. The 2017 dates have been published in The Zodiac. Provided that what they apply for is available under the scheme, and that they confirm that they have the evidence needed to support the application, we will grant the accommodations that they apply for. Because of this, there should be no surprises for you, your parents, or the school.
Please note that even if the access arrangements you need arise from a learning difficulty, such as dyslexia, you do not need a report from an educational psychologist. The school will assemble all of the information needed to support the application, including carrying out whatever tests are needed.
In order to make an application for special arrangements, the school has to give the SEC information about you, including information about any relevant disability. A parent or guardian will need to sign a form to give the school permission to pass on this information to us. If you are over 18, you will sign this form yourself.
When dealing with the school, you should bear in mind that they have an important role to play in making sure that the scheme is implemented fairly and is not abused. While it is the SEC that makes the decision to grant or refuse any accommodation, schools are not allowed to apply for an accommodation that they know you do not qualify for. To make sure that all schools in the country are treating students fairly and consistently, the SEC checks a sample of schools every year. The SEC checks that they are correctly identifying the students who need particular assessment arrangements and that they have the evidence to justify the applications that they make.
Another way that we check that things are happening correctly across the country is by making audio recordings in a sample of individual special centres each year. The SEC arrange these recordings to make sure that readers, scribes, and superintendents are interacting with candidates in the correct way and not giving any inappropriate help.
In relation to the provision of RACE for students with SEN, two (2) major changes have been announced:
1. Reasonable Accommodations that were granted for the Junior Certificate will now be reactivated at Leaving Certificate level. This is on the condition that the school can confirm that the student still has an identified and continuing need. Schools will continue to be responsible for granting accommodations at Junior Certificate level for students that meet the criteria. In addition, schools are now responsible for recommending the supports that should be put in place at Leaving Cert level. This means that the State Examinations Commission (SEC) will, in most cases, accept the reactivation recommendations from the school and there should be no need for further testing of attainment levels.
2. Previous to these changes dyslexic students applied for RACE under the category of ‘Specific Learning Difficulty’. This category has now changed to ‘Learning Difficulty’.
All applications for RACE will be made through the school using a common set of forms. There are separate sets of application forms for Junior and Leaving Certificate and they have separate application deadlines. It is important to note that as 2017 is the flagship year for this change in the RACE application process, the deadlines are quite tight. The SEC has stated that they hope the deadlines will be different in 2018.
The following are the forms that must be filled out in relation to RACE at JUNIOR Certificate level:
• RACE Scheme Junior Certificate Application Form (RA5) – This is the standard application form for RACE at Junior Certificate Level.
• RACE Scheme Junior Certificate Late Applications Form (RA6) – This form is used for late RACE applications.
The following are the forms that must be filled out in relation to RACE at LEAVING Certificate level:
• RACE Scheme Leaving Certificate Reactivation Form (Form RA1) – This should be used when applying for the reactivation of accommodations from Junior Certificate. It is also acceptable to use this form to apply for the use of a word processor rather than a scribe if a scribe was grated at Junior Certificate.
• RACE Scheme Leaving Certificate Application for New Accommodations (Form RA2). This form can be used to apply for RACE for students who meet the criteria but did not receive any accommodations in their Junior Certificate OR where a student needs additional accommodations to the ones that were granted at Junior Cert.
• RACE Scheme Leaving Certificate Late Application Form (Form RA3). This form can be used to make a late application for RACE at Leaving Certificate. It should be noted that that there is still a deadline for late applications and that schools will have to furnish the SEC with a reason for the application being submitted late.
It is important to note that the criteria for each accommodation have not changed. These will continue to be used to ‘evidence need’. In addition, schools will be subjected to strenuous quality assurance checks by the SEC in order to maintain the integrity of both the Junior and Leaving Certificate. Schools will be required to strictly adhere to the criteria when granting exam accommodations. The SEC will provide a referral and advisory service to schools to assist them in difficult or complicated cases in relation to granting RACE.
If the application is rejected
Decisions on approval of reactivations and first time RACE applications will be passed on to the schools and the school will notify all candidates of the result of their application. If the application is rejected, then the SEC will provide the reasons for the rejection in writing to the school and student. As before, an independent appeals process will be available should you be dissatisfied with the result of your RACE application. If you are then dissatisfied with the outcome of the independent appeal you may be able to have recourse through the Office of the Children’s Ombudsman (if the student is under 18 years old) or the Ombudsman (if the student is over 18 years old).
Annotation of Certificates
Exemptions and waivers mean that your grade in that subject no longer has precisely the same meaning as the grades of other students, because the skills you have shown are not the same. Since the SEC needs to make sure that the certificate it gives you remains truthful, they must include an explanatory note. This is a note that makes clear which of the course-related skills you were tested on. The explanatory note does not identify your disability or say why the exemption was given. However, a person looking at your certificate could reasonably assume that the exemption was due either to a temporary injury or a long term condition.
In many cases, if you need some special access arrangements for your Junior Certificate examinations (or for the final examinations for the new Junior Cycle), you will need them again for the Leaving Certificate examinations. Because of this, there is a straightforward procedure for getting the same arrangements again. The school will fill out a form confirming that you had the arrangements before and that you still need them, and the SEC will grant them again, unless there is some very strong reason why they shouldn’t.
You can still get special access arrangements for the Leaving Certificate if you didn’t have them before.
Also, even if you did have them before, you can get different ones now. For example, if you have a writing difficulty, you might have had a scribe for Junior Certificate. If you have become more used to using a laptop since then, you can get approval for using the laptop instead of a scribe.
Moving on to third level
The SEC does not pass on any information about your disability or your examination arrangements to Higher Education Institutions or to the Central Applications Office (CAO). If you want support in making sure that your disability does not get in the way of this next stage of your education, you should contact the access office or disability office of the institution that you want to go to. As part of this support, they will discuss any special assessment arrangements that you may need when you are there.
Also, most third-level institutions are trying to encourage more participation by students with disabilities. Because of this, there is an alternative entry route available for students whose disability has had a negative effect on their second-level education. It is called the “Disability Access Route to Education” (DARE). For information about it, see the website accesscollege.ie.
These arrangements are entirely separate from the examination access arrangements that the SEC operates. You should not assume that the same access arrangements that you get for the Leaving Certificate examination will be provided at third level, or that you will automatically qualify for the DARE scheme. Likewise, you should not assume that qualifying for the DARE scheme entitles you to any particular access arrangements in the Leaving Certificate examination.
This is a guide for students and parents. It does not have all of the detailed information and instructions that a school needs to make an application. Those details are in Reasonable Accommodations at the 2017 Certificate Examinations – Instructions for Schools
We believe this information is accurate, but students and parents are advised to check all details at www.examinations.ie. (Guide for Students)