Dear Joe McHugh,
We are writing this letter out of concern for students in this country who have, are currently, or will one day be applying to Reasonable Accommodations for the Certificate Exams (RACE) when sitting their Leaving Certificate. As you know, RACE is a scheme which provides students who have learning disabilities with resources to aid them during state exams.
Firstly, we would like to commend the State Examinations Commission for the setting up of this scheme, since its work is invaluable to students who require these resources when sitting exams. However, having surveyed students who have applied to RACE and will be sitting the Leaving Certificate this year, as well as having conducted interviews with past Leaving Cert students who sat their exams with reasonable accommodations, we gathered some data that suggests an overall dissatisfaction with how students feel about RACE.
Since we emailed RACE with this data and received no response, we decided our next action would be to bring it to your attention. In one of our survey questions, students were asked to indicate their satisfaction with their reasonable accommodation on a response scale.
29% felt satisfied while the remaining
71% felt either somewhat dissatisfied, dissatisfied or very dissatisfied.
No students felt very satisfied.
Although this survey was distributed among a very small population of students, the individual interviews we conducted with past Leaving Cert students, showed that these students also felt negatively about their experience with RACE. During these interviews, it was revealed that each student was assigned their reasonable accommodation without being given a say in the matter. Furthermore, one of these students claimed that having a reader put them at a disadvantage in terms of time management.
As easy as it may be to dismiss this kind of data, we feel its significance cannot go ignored. Students who require dispensations during exams are a small minority of the population, but we do not see this as a reason to diminish their experiences. If anything, we see it as a reason to make sure that their voices are heard, and that their needs are met to a more satisfactory level. As it stands, it appears that these students are not being given the same opportunities as their peers.
To us, this is unacceptable. Being Leaving Certificate students, we are well aware of the stress and worry that comes with approaching exams; however, neither one of us requires a reasonable accommodation, and so we can only imagine how much this stress must be heightened if our data does in fact speak for the majority of students who require reasonable accommodations.
With this in mind, we ask that there be more of a dialogue between students and teachers when students are in the process of applying for reasonable accommodations. No student should be put at a disadvantage because of a disability - particularly in an examination as competitive as the Leaving Certificate. You recently announced your intention to make Ireland’s education system the best in Europe by 2026, and highlighted the fact that education is the pathway for every individual to fulfil their potential. We feel that by improving the current running of RACE, you would be well on your way to achieving this goal.