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'There are penalties, absolutely': Minister says there are sanctions associated with Polymetrika calculated grade contract

The cost of the calculated grades system is €160,000.
Oct 1st 2020, 6:30 AM 24,220 25

EDUCATION MINISTER NORMA Foley said there are sanctions associated with the Polymetrika International contract – the company that developed the calculated Leaving Certificate code.

At a press conference with the minister yesterday, it was confirmed that the “original value” of the contract with the Canadian company was €75,000.

An official from the Department of Education said that “the expenditure to date” is €160,000.

Not all the expenditure lies with the department but also with the State Examinations Commission as the contract was originally placed back in the “contingency planning days” in April, an official stated. 

Asked about sanctions, the minister told that there “are there penalties in relation to this… absolutely”.

However, the government’s focus “is very much so on ensuring the error that has occurred is corrected, the principle concern of the students”.

The department has said it is not focusing on what is owed back to the government in relation to the code bought by the State, with one official stating “we are not looking at those issues yet”. 

“In terms of looking at any sanctions or looking at the contract”, one official said the focus now is on the students and their grades.

It emerged yesterday that two errors were found in the code responsible for calculating the grades of this year’s Leaving Cert students.

The errors are estimated to have impacted the grades of approximately 6,500 students.

Education Minister Norma Foley said that those who received a higher grade “will not be affected in any way” and that those who were marked down “will have their proper grade restored”. 

The identified error was in the code provided by the company Polymetrika International, Foley said yesterday. 

Reporters were told that the working group in the department had been seeking alternatives to the Leaving Cert since the onset of the pandemic when it became clear the State exams might not go ahead. On 8 May, a decision for calculated grades to be rolled out was agreed, said the minister. 

Since then, an independent steering committee, an international external reviewer Dr Janet Browne of the Scottish Qualifications Authority and the Education Research Centre (ERS), were all part of the oversight of the scheme.

The ERS carried out checks but “did do sampling checks of the coding”, according to the minister, who said there were “several layers of validation checks”.

The September report from the National Standardisation Group to the Independent Steering Committee and the Programme Board notes over 40 variants of the model were tested.

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It also notes that Dr Kentaro Yamamoto was appointed as a technical adviser to provide a “level of contingency cover for Polymetrika” on the standardisation process and to provide expert advice and oversight regarding data integrity.

At the press briefing yesterday, it was confirmed that between May and August the model and code was being developed, with officials stating it would have been “impossible” to run a full code and data check.

The calculated grade code was “new” and “not bought off the shelf”, said one official. 

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Christina Finn


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