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State Examinations

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 6 October 2020

Tuesday, 6 October 2020

Ceisteanna (486)

Patricia Ryan


486. Deputy Patricia Ryan asked the Minister for Education her plans to address the errors in determining the leaving certificate calculated grades; if the State will be compensated for the errors; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [28868/20]

Amharc ar fhreagra

Freagraí scríofa (Ceist ar Education)

The decision to adopt a model of Calculated Grades by my Department was a result of COVID-19, which prevented the State from running the conventional Leaving Certificate Examinations. The purpose of this process was to allow as many students as possible to progress to employment, further education and training, or higher education.

My Department contracted a Canadian company, Polymetrika International Inc. to assist with the development of the model.

On 30 September, I made a statement that advising that two errors had been identified in the Calculated Grades process. These meant that incorrect grades were issued to some students when they received their results on 7 September.

The first error was identified by Polymetrika as having taken place when processing students’ data. The error, in one out of 50,000 lines of code, was in relation to the processing of Junior Cycle data. The system was meant to draw on the core Junior Cycle subjects of English, Irish and Maths, and combine them with the students’ 2 best non-core subjects for all of the students in each class in each school. The coding error instead combined them with the students’ 2 weakest non-core subjects.

The error meant that, in some subjects, some students received Calculated Grades that were lower than they should have been, while some students received grades that were higher than they should have been.

In the course of the complete review which the Department undertook, Departmental staff found a further error in the section of the code dealing with Junior Cycle results. The Junior Cycle subject Civil, Social and Political Education (CPSE) was meant to be disregarded as part of the model but was not. This second error, however, had a negligible impact on results.

I provided a further update on 03 October, announcing that improved Calculated Grades would issue to impacted students that day. This announcement was made following a review of essential aspects of the coding by Educational Testing Services, ETS, a non-profit organisation based in the United States.

ETS completed their review and provided it to my Department on 3 October. The review identified one further error, relating to how the code handled cases where students did not sit all three core subjects (Irish, English and Maths) at Junior Cycle level.

As a result of rectification of the errors, a total of 6,100 students have received higher grades. This breaks down as follows:

- 5,408 students have received a higher grade, by one grade band, in one subject,

- 621 students have received a higher grade, by one grade band, in two subjects,

- 71 students have received a higher grade, by one grade band, in three or more subjects.

National policy in relation to examination outcomes, as given effect in Section 53 of the Education Act 1998 (as amended), is focussed on guarding against the release of information which would enable the compilation of information (that is not otherwise available to the general public) in relation to the comparative performance of schools in respect of the academic achievement of students. This means that generally examinations performance data analysis will only be presented and/or published on an aggregated, national basis and not at any more granular level, including by school but also by school type, geographic location, regional location, etc.

In addition to the students who received a lower grade than they should have in this year’s Leaving Certificate, some students received a higher grade than they should have. However, these students grades are not being amended.

ETS also identified an issue concerning how the algorithm used in the standardisation process treated students’ marks at the extreme ends of the marks scale (99% and over, 1% and below). However, ETS also stated that this had no material impact on the results and no student could receive a lower grade as a result of it.

Impacted students were sent a text message advising them to log onto the Calculated Grades Student Portal to access their revised results from 6.00pm on Saturday 03 October.

The Department has sent a corrected file of student results to the CAO. The CAO will now establish how many students are eligible to receive a new CAO offer.

The Department of Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science will work with the CAO and the higher education institutions to see how these students can be facilitated to commence the course that they would, in other circumstances, have been offered in an earlier round.

Any student who would have been entitled to a different offer in previous CAO rounds if they received the correct grade on 7 September will receive this offer or a deferred offer as soon as practicable after the updating of results.

This is in line with the practice that occurs in the appeals process every year.