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Assessment in Lower Secondary Education


6.Secondary and Post-Secondary Non-Tertiary Education

6.3Assessment in Lower Secondary Education

Last update: 27 November 2023

Assessment in Lower Secondary Education

Pupil/Students Assessment

The new Framework for Junior Cycle 2015 contains an assessment model called the Junior Cycle Profiles of Achievement (JCPA), which is a new award that replaces the Junior Certificate. Under this important reform, examination results are no longer the only formal representation of a student’s accomplishments at Junior Cycle.

The JCPA includes a student’s results in State Examinations, in Classroom Based Assessments, their participation in a short course and any other additional aspects of a student’s achievement e.g. extra-curricular activities. Specific recognition is given in the JCPA for students with special educational needs for their achievements in Priority Learning Units. 

Each assessment will be drawn from a variety of types of assessment, which might include project tasks, oral language tasks, investigations, practical or designing and making tasks, field studies and artistic performance.

The new dual approach to assessment has been introduced that supports student learning over the three years of junior cycle. This approach measures and reports achievement at the end of those three years. The dual approach reduces the focus on one externally assessed examination as a means of assessing students and increases the prominence given to classroom-based assessment and formative assessment. This change of emphasis arises from an acknowledgement that students learn best when teachers provide feedback that helps students to understand how their learning can be improved. All assessment for certification purposes remains external.

For subjects, the new assessment arrangements include formative assessment that is ongoing. Formative assessment involves teachers and students reflecting on how learning is progressing and deciding on the next steps to ensure successful outcomes. It involves a shift from focusing mainly on summative judgements to engaging in ongoing activities that can be used to support next stages of learning. A vital part of formative assessment is the feedback that teachers provide to their students and students’ feedback to teachers. Through a range of assessment for learning strategies the teacher helps the student to identify what has been achieved and where there is room for further learning and development.

Most subjects with new specifications will be assessed through:

  • two Classroom-Based Assessments (CBAs), reported on to parents/guardians by the school;

  • an Assessment Task, marked by the State Exams Commission (SEC) in each subject; and

  • a Final Examination set, held and marked by the SEC.

The combination of the Assessment Task and the Final Examination will generate a grade, certified by the SEC. Slightly modified assessment structures will apply in Art, Craft and Design, Music, Home Economics, and the Technology subjects when the revised specifications for these subjects are introduced.

Classroom-Based Assessments (CBAs) have been introduced to allow students to demonstrate their understanding of concepts and skills and their ability to apply them in ways that may not be possible in an externally assessed examination. They are used in the assessment of learning in subjects and in short courses. CBAs are assessed by the students’ teachers and reported on to students and parents/guardians during junior cycle and in the JCPA.

With the need to avoid ‘over-assessment’ and the cumulative burden on students and teachers of multiple assessments across the full range of subjects, it is intended that the CBAs will substitute other assessments currently undertaken in the school such as in-house examinations, etc. as appropriate.

With the continued implementation of the Framework for Junior Cycle, students will undertake two CBAs facilitated by their teacher, one in second year and one in third year. CBAs in all subjects will be specified at a common level. The assessments associated with CBAs will cover a broad range of activities including oral tasks, written work of different types, practical or designing and making tasks, artistic performances, scientific experiments, projects or other suitable tasks depending on the subject in question.

In the case of a small number of subjects, (Art, Craft and Design, Music, Home Economics and the Technology subjects) the second CBA will involve practical work, or the creation of an artefact or a performance. As the finished artefact, practical work, or performance are currently marked by the SEC in these subjects, they will continue to be marked by SEC, together with the related accompanying written evidence, as appropriate.

Teachers are advised to use ‘on-balance’ judgements when assessing the level of student achievement in a CBA against the learning outcomes. The Features of Quality are set out in four level descriptors:

  • Exceptional;

  • Above Expectations;

  • In Line with Expectations;

  • Yet to Meet Expectations.

Most of the assessment activities during the teaching of short courses is expected to be formative in nature. The evidence of learning should be generated according to the short course specification and should relate directly to the aims and learning outcomes of the short course. There will be no more than two CBAs involved and the achievement of students will be described using a nationally determined common set of descriptors which are set out above. Short courses will be assessed by the students’ teachers and reported on to students and parents/guardians during junior cycle and in the JCPA.

When students have completed CBAs, the CBAs will be assessed by the students’ teachers, and the outcomes will be reported to the students. To support teachers in assessing students’ CBAs, teachers in a school involved in teaching these subjects will engage in Subject Learning and Assessment Review meetings (SLARs). At these meetings, teachers will share and discuss representative samples of students’ work and build a common understanding about the quality of their students’ learning. Where there is a single teacher of a subject in the school, the teacher can be facilitated to participate in a SLAR meeting in another school.

SLARs will be required for the assessment of CBAs that are completed in short courses. The SLAR meetings will play a key role in developing a collegial professional culture and build up expertise about the judgements that teachers make about student achievement. SLARS may not be required in relation to the second CBA completed in the practical subjects (Art, Craft and Design, Music, Home Economics and the Technology subjects) as the finished artefact, practical work or performance produced by the student will be marked by the State Examinations Commission. The SLAR meetings will play a key role in developing a collegial professional culture and build up expertise about the judgements that teachers make about student achievement. SLARS may not be required in relation to the second CBA completed.

The Department’s plan to improve literacy and numeracy, as outlined in the National Strategy to Improve Literacy and Numeracy among Children and Young People 2011-2020  literacy and numeracy, ensures that these key skills will be embedded in every aspect of the Framework for Junior Cycle. National standardised testing of literacy and mathematical ability will also be introduced during the second year of junior cycle, which, when taken in tandem with similar testing in primary schools, should allow for an improved tracking of assessment outcomes at national level in these key areas. There will also be national standardised testing in Science at the same point during junior cycle.

Students with special education needs may study a combination of Prioirity Learning Units (PLUs), short courses and subjects. Assessment arrangements for subjects and short courses for students with special educational needs are set out. The assessment of the PLUs of learning programmes undertaken by a small number of students with significant special educational needs will be classroom-based. Over the three years in Junior Cycle, students will assemble evidence of their learning in a portfolio. Students will submit this portfolio to their teachers and the students’ work will be assessed and reported on. A toolkit to support the schools and teachers in the assessment of PLUs and short courses is available on the NCCA website.

Progression of Students

As the Framework for Junior Cycle is rolled out in the forthcoming years, the written Assessment Task for each subject will be specified and published by the NCCA. It will relate to the learning outcomes of the second CBA. Students must complete their second CBA in order to undertake the associated Assessment Task.


The Assessment Task will be completed in class under the supervision of the teacher in accordance with a timeframe and guidance from the NCCA. The Assessment Task will be returned to the SEC for marking and will be marked as part of the final examination. Marks for the Assessment Task in each subject will be incorporated into the calculation of the grade for that subject by the SEC. The value to be assigned to the Assessment Task will be included in the assessment guidelines for each subject. In the case of English, Business Studies and Science the value assigned to the Assessment Task will not exceed 10% of the overall marks available for the Final Examination. A separate Assessment Task will not be required in those practical subjects where the second CBA will continue to be assessed by the SEC (Art, Craft and Design, Music, Home Economics and the Technology subjects).

The final written examinations will be held in the month of June in third year of the Junior Cycle. The final written examination will be at a common level, apart from English, Irish and Mathematics where there will be two levels (higher and ordinary) available. Student achievement in the state-certified examinations, will incorporate the results of the Assessment Task, or, in the case of the practical subjects, students’ achievement in the externally assessed practical component (artefact, practical work, or performance).

A new grading system is being introduced for Junior Cycle over the coming years and this new grading system will appear alongside the traditional grading system until 2021, at which point, it will be phased in fully.

The following table provides an explanation of the current and revised grading system for Junior Certificate / Junior Cycle subjects.


Junior   Certificate

Junior   Cycle

Higher,   Ordinary, Foundation


Grade Descriptor


Grade Descriptor


≥   85 to 100


≥   90 to 100



≥   70 and < 85


≥   75 and < 90

Higher   Merit


≥   55 and < 70


≥   55 and < 75



≥   40 and < 55


≥   40 and < 55



≥   25 and < 40


≥   20 and < 40

Partially   Achieved


≥   10 and < 25


≥   0 and < 20

Not   Graded (NG)


≥   0 and < 10