Leaving Cert 2020: Pressure Mounting on Predicted Grading

Published on 17 August 2020 at 11:53

As the clock ticks down to the release of calculated grades for the Leaving Certificate, results across the pond have ratcheted up the pressure. The recent shambles involving the allocation of predicted grades in Scotland and England have shown a massive flaw in the use of the system that poses serious questions for how things will pan out in Ireland.


While it is not known exactly what caused the discrepancies in the UK, nor whether or not this will necessarily translate into a problem here, Department of Education criteria for grade selection do not make for good reading.


Focus will centre around the ‘National Standardisation’ phase of the process. This is where the predicted grades received from the schools is adjusted to meet expectations of a normal academic year. As the department’s website makes clear, historical data will be utilised in correcting school grades to account for what is typical for the school.


This is naturally tougher for students from less wealthy backgrounds who do not attend private schools, as they are both reliant on their teacher’s expectations but then also at the mercy of exams past that clearly favour better results for more well off schools. That 40% of grades lowered in the UK specifically affected lower income students will feed into this fear, as students who would hope to do well are potentially going to be pre-judged according to what would be typical for their school as opposed to their own ability.


The Department of Education have made clear that “The national standardisation process being used will not impose any predetermined score on any individual in a class or a school”. However, as results abroad have shown, it is that the scores per school which will be predetermined, with no clear logic as to how this will affect individual students who could otherwise have achieved better results. One would think this is where the teacher’s grades would make a difference, however as the Department has also said it is these very marks that will be altered to maintain historical average.


Not that any of this manipulation is necessarily new. The grading of individual questions are regularly changed in order to downgrade the number of H1’s in exams to meet an acceptable average. If too many achieve a H1 in Higher level maths after the first round of correcting, for example, then the 3 marks normally lost in a 15 mark question for a minor error could become 12 marks lost.


While the merits of doing this to stop ‘too many’ people achieving the one grade is debatable, there is at least a degree of fairness to it. A tough break yes, but one applied equally.


What has been demonstrated abroad however is that this statistical manipulation is not applied equally and will affect some students more than others, and nothing about the Department of Education’s reliance on historical averages suggest the grades of Irish students will be any different.


Try telling a student from a DEIS school that they couldn’t get their dream college course because they have failed an exam they never sat as a result of how people who sat the exams before them did. A very difficult sell indeed.


If results and protests in the UK have shown anything, it is that students will not take this lying down. For now, Irish students continue to wait with interest.


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