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Students mistakenly awarded higher grades may have 'squeezed out' others from college, Minister concedes

Education Minister Norma Foley has apologised to students again after errors in the calculated grades system were revealed.

Image: Oireachtas.ie

Updated Oct 1st 2020, 10:30 PM

GRADES GIVEN TO students that were higher than they should have been due to errors in the Leaving Certificate calculated grades system may have meant students who received lower grades in error missed out on college places.

Education Minister Norma Foley addressed the Dáil this evening after it was announced yesterday that two coding errors were identified in the calculated grades system which meant that thousands of students received at least one result one grade lower than they should have.

Asked by Mick Barry TD how many students had received a grade higher than they should have received due to the error, Foley said that 6,500 students had received a lower grade than they should have, and so “there is every chance we might be talking about a similar number” of students who received a higher grade than they should have.

Barry said that there “must be students who applied for courses who would have gotten their courses if that error hadn’t been made who were squeezed out of their courses”.

In response, Foley said that “there are students who have benefited and whose grades have increased, and those students will retain those grades and not be downgraded”.

Responding to further questioning from Barry on whether higher grades given to students in error had pushed out students who had mistakenly received lower grades, Foley accepted that the situation was “very possible.”

“As regards whether there might have been an issue in some students getting places they might not have gotten if the system had been otherwise, that’s absolutely very possible,” Foley said.

Foley told the Dáil that students who should receive a higher CAO offer following the correction of errors in the calculated grades system “will receive this offer, or a deferred offer as soon as possible”.

Students who defer an offer to next year but complete the first year of a different course they have already started this year will remain eligible for the free fees scheme, the minister has said.

The Department of Education, which has already looked into the errors, has now appointed an external body called Educational Testing Service to review the code and “provide an independent, expert opinion on the adequacy of the coding”.

Foley said that ETS’ analysis may be completed “as early as tomorrow”.

“Thereafter, I would like to see things move as quickly as possible” in relation to the rectification of grades and offers for students had been impacted, Foley said.

At least 200 calls have been made by students and parents to a helpline following the announcement of the errors.

Foley told the Dáil that “approximately 200 calls” were received by a dedicated helpline set up for students in the Department of Education yesterday afternoon and evening after the error was revealed.

The calculated grading system was meant to factor in a student’s Junior Certificate results in English, Maths, Irish and their two best non-core subjects on an aggregated class level.

However, it instead used their two worst non-core subjects.

It was also meant to exclude the subject Civic, Social and Political Education (CSPE) from the system, but was included in error.

Foley apologised for the distress caused to students and their families following the errors.

She described it as a “difficult day” for students and said that the announcement had “generated anxiety and worry”.

“They are errors which should not have occurred,” Foley said.

The first error relating to the inclusion of students’ worst non-core Junior Certificate subjects instead of their best two was identified by Polymetrika International, the company that developed the code for the calculated grades system, on Tuesday last week.

The second error was then identified when the first error led to an internal review of the system.

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It is expected that students will be contacted by text message to be told whether or not they were impacted by the error. Affected students will then receive new provisional results on the calculated grades portal.

Polymetrika International was paid €91,500 above the agreed cost due to a €1,100 daily charge for days worked outside the contract.

The Department of Education said that there was “insufficient time in which to run a normal, full procurement process” after the decision was taken to implement a calculated grades system in place of the traditional Leaving Certificate exams.

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