Tuesday, 29 September 2020

Ceisteanna (483)

Brendan Griffin


483. Deputy Brendan Griffin asked the Minister for Education if she will now permit the estimated grades of students to be used where they have been unfairly downgraded by the algorithm which was unilaterally changed by the Department of Education after the students accepted the predicted grade system; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [26992/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

The decision to adopt a model of Calculated Grades by my Department was a direct result of COVID-19, which prevented the State from running the conventional Leaving Certificate Examinations.

The design of the Calculated Grades model was informed by advice from a Technical Working Group comprising experts drawn from the State Examinations Commission, the Inspectorate of the Department of Education and Skills, the Educational Research Centre and international external expertise.

Schools provided an estimated percentage mark and a rank order for each student’s subjects. The process of national standardisation was applied to the school information in order to ensure comparability between the standards applied by individual schools and the national standard. We know from research that teachers are very good at making judgements about their students in the local context of the school. Schools approached this task in a very professional manner, in line with detailed guidelines about the process, but inevitably some schools were overly harsh in their estimations while others were overly generous. This is to be expected given that there is no national standard on which to base an estimated mark. But to be fair to the class of 2020, the teacher judgements made at the level of the school had to be adjusted so that a common national standard was applied. It was inherent to the system of calculated grades that school estimates would be subject to adjustment through this standardisations process.

These adjustments resulted in the school estimates staying the same or being revised upwards or downwards. The standardisation process operated on the premise that the school estimates should only be adjusted through the standardisation process where there was credible statistical evidence to justify changing them.

This standardising process happens every year and would have happened in 2020 had the Leaving Certificate examinations been run as normal. The standardisation process applied across all subject and levels. The degree to which mark changes occurred related to the degree of over or underestimation in the school estimates for each subject and each level. This means that some students experienced changes from the school estimates but no changes to the grades based on the school estimates; while others will have experienced marks changes from the teacher estimates leading to grade changes in one or more of their subjects.

Following standardisation, the estimated percentage mark was converted to a calculated mark and subsequently, a calculated grade which was provided to students on 7 September. It is only at this point that students were awarded a grade.

Therefore, it is not accurate to state that student(s) were downgraded, or upgraded, through the standardisation process. Rather the grade that was awarded following the standardisation process is the grade for the 2020 Leaving Certificate (Calculated Grades).

The overall data on school estimated marks showed that there was a very significant rise in estimated grades against what would normally be achieved nationally. This level of grade increase based on the school estimates would have been unrealistic. For example, based on the school data there would have been 13.8% H1 grades this year when in a normal year there is 5.8%. Even with the standardisation process the rate of H1s this year is over 9%.

In terms of the grades awarded on 7th September 2020, 83% (almost 340,000) of all Leaving Certificate subject grades were either the same or higher than the school estimates while 17% (under 70,000) grades were lower.

In the absence of the Leaving Certificate examinations in 2020 every effort has been made to make the system as fair as possible for as many students a possible. The statistical model used was blind to demographic characteristics either at the level of the student or the school. The standardisation process means that the same standard has been applied uniformly across all schools. This means anyone using the certificate to make a judgement between two people who hold this certificate, either now or in the future, can place equal value on the same grade in the same subject, without regard to where they went to school, as they would in a normal year.

Individual Junior Cycle results were not used to determine any individual’s Calculated Grades. Rather, the Calculated Grades process took account of the overall Junior Cycle performance of the Leaving Certificate class of 2020 in each school and used this data to help in predicting the likely range of Leaving Certificate performance of that group using related information about the relationship between performance at Junior Cycle and Leaving Certificate based on national data over time.

The fact that the vast majority of 2020 Leaving Certificate students would have sat the Junior Cycle examinations provides a good means of predicting the pattern of performance of these students at an aggregate level. The process was not applied at an individual student level. The Junior Cycle data for 2020 Leaving Certificate students who had sat their examinations in another school were carried in to the school at which they were registered to sit the Leaving Certificate.

While some students will be disappointed at the results they have achieved, this is the case every year when the Leaving Certificate results are published. It may be more difficult for students to understand when they see the estimated mark from the school.