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Leah Farrell/
Leaving Cert

State has paid over €200,000 to Polymetrika for work on last year's Leaving Cert

This work includes the ‘standardisation’ algorithm that had two flawed lines of code resulting in 7,200 students receiving the wrong grades.

THE IRISH STATE has paid Polymetrika over €200,000 for work on the Calculated Grades system, and continued payments after controversy surrounded the flaws in the coding that lead to thousands of Leaving Cert students receiving the incorrect grades.

Documents released under a Freedom of Information request to also show that when it was announced in October that €163,000 had been paid to Polymetrika, that amount was closer to €172,589.45.

It comes as the Irish Government considers the options on how the State exams should be carried out this year, after the written Leaving Cert exams were abandoned last year in favour of Calculated Grades, which were based on work students had done previously.

On 1 October, the Minister for Education Norma Foley stated that €71,500 was initially paid to Canadian company Polymetrika International for consultancy for 65 days last year as part of contingency planning if the Leaving Cert exams didn’t go ahead.

A further €91,000 was paid subsequently up until October, the Minister said. The Department said at the time that the increase in cost was due to any additional days outside the contract being charged at €1,100 per day.

This gives a total of €162,500.

An FOI request showed that five invoices were sent by Polymetrika for the following amounts between May and September:

  • €17,875 (due 4 May 2020)
  • CAD 82,133.12 (due 5 July 2020)
  • CAD 58,718 (due 31 July 2020)
  • CAD 93,258 (due 1 September 2020)
  • CAD 31,086 (due 1 October 2020).

The Department of Education confirmed that these invoices were paid to Polymetrika. The total paid to Polymetrika for the above invoices was €193,311.45, the Department of Education said.

This is more than the amount Minister for Education Norma Foley said had been paid to the company on 1 October last year, even when the final invoice (sent on 30 September and due on 1 October) is discounted.

In a statement, the Department of Education said: “Between May 2020 and September 2020, five invoices were received from Polymetrika International Inc (PII), in relation to the performance of work concerning Leaving Certificate 2020.

One invoice was denominated in euros, totalling €17,875. Four invoices were denominated in Canadian Dollars, totalling CAD 265,195.12, which was equivalent to €175,436.45 following the application of the relevant exchange rates. Payments made in respect of the first four invoices amounted to €172,589.45.

The figure of €172,589.45 is higher than the figure of €163,000 given by the Minister for Education on 1 October.

It’s not clear exactly why the Minister gave a figure of €163,000 on 1 October. 

It is understood that the discrepancy may be due to conversion rate changes, and the withholding tax amount being included in the total.

But five days later in a PQ to Labour TD Sean Sherlock, Foley said that €193,000 had been paid to Polymetrika – which is the correct total when the fifth invoice is included.

The statement from the Department spokesperson continued: “Payment was made in respect of the fifth (September) invoice (CAD 31,086) which was equivalent to €20,722. Total payments made to Polymetrika under these five invoices amount to €193,311.45, before deduction of withholding tax.”

The Department spokesperson didn’t clarify what dates the invoices had been paid.

Further costs

The Department also confirmed that two further invoices were received from Polymetrika after these five invoices.

“These totalled CAD 20,042.02, and were paid and were equivalent to €13,308.85, following the application of the relevant exchange rates, before deduction of withholding tax,” a spokesperson said.

This brings the total paid to Polymetrika, before withholding tax is deducted, to €206,620.30.

An expert with knowledge in the field said that the amounts paid to Polymetrika were reasonable for consultancy work, but quite low for work that would involve writing the algorithm for 60,000 students, inputting the data and testing it to see if it worked – which would normally involve a team of people.

The Department said it was continuing to work with Polymetrika “to ensure the completion of all aspects of the Calculated Grades system”.

In relation to a Tax Clearance Certificate from Polymetrika dated 17 December 2019 also released under FOI, the Department of Education said it “did not engage with Polymetrika about carrying out work for the Department in December 2019″.

The Calculated Grades system was designed to give Leaving Cert students grades based on the work they had done to date, the teacher’s knowledge of their students’ abilities, and a standardisation of grades to bring them in line with previous Leaving Cert results.

Teachers used their students’ past exam results, essays, project work and practicals to assess what grade students would have received if they had sat the traditional Leaving Cert. Teachers also ranked their students in order of how likely they would be to receive the grades teachers assigned to them.

The Department of Education then ‘standardised’ the grades, in an attempt to bring them in line with other Leaving Cert results. This would be done using an algorithm. After students received their Calculated Grades, and after the first round of college courses were offered, two errors in the Calculated Grade algorithm was found, which affected thousands of students.

The first error was that the standardisation was meant to take in the three core Junior Cert subjects: English, Irish and Maths, and the students’ two highest subjects – but instead the algorithm took into account their two lowest subjects. The second error was that the algorithm was to discount the subject Civic, Social and Political Education (CSPE), and instead included it.

A survey has indicated that Leaving Cert students’ preference this year is to have a choice between sitting the written State exams or opting to be assessed via Calculated Grades.

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