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Education minister says oral exam marking is still 'ongoing' after concerns students were treated unfairly

Concerns were raised today that some students did not receive fair treatment in the oral exams.

Image: Julian Behal Photography/Rollingnews.ie

THE MARKING PROCESS for Leaving Certificate oral exams is “ongoing”, the education minister has said in the wake of reports of irregularities.

Opposition TDs raised concerns today over the marking process for oral exams that were carried out under unusual circumstances due to Covid-19 restrictions.

Normally, students are questioned by an external examiner who visits the school.

However, this year, teachers ran the exams with their students and sent a recording of the conversation to the State Examinations Commission to then be marked by an examiner.

The Irish Times reported this morning that one examiner who marked 78 orals found that a significant number were not carried out in line with instructions that were sent to teachers.

This meant that some students were not asked enough required questions or given the opportunity to address key sections of an exam.

The examiner received an email from an advising examiner who told them not to detail problems with interviewers in feedback reports, the Irish Times reported.

In a statement, Minister for Education Norma Foley responded: “The State Examinations Commission (SEC), which is charged with the responsibility of running the state examinations, has confirmed that the marking of the oral examinations is ongoing and has not concluded.”

“In line with the SEC’s quality assurance arrangements, the SEC continues to monitor the marking process and, as part of this, will give its consideration to any actions that may be required,” Foley said.

“I have requested the SEC to keep me fully informed in this regard,” she said.

“I am very conscious that students are sitting examinations at present and the reassurance of the SEC is important as it encourages students to continue to concentrate their efforts on the written examinations at this time.”

The State Examinations Commission said this evening that “any quality issues relating to the orals and/or the written examinations will be addressed as normal in the marking process to the greatest degree possible”.

“While the revised model for oral examinations this year presented some challenges, which the SEC is continuing to follow up (including in engagement with schools as required), the SEC can offer its reassurance to candidates, currently undertaking examinations, by affirming its absolute commitment to ensuring that candidates are treated fairly and equitably in the examinations process for the 2021 Leaving Certificate, including the oral examinations.”

Earlier today, Sinn Féin spokesperson for education Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire said he was “extremely concerned to hear reports that a significant number of Leaving Cert language students, through no fault of their own, have been marked down due to shortcomings in the way that the oral exams were run this year”.

Impacted students should be offered another set of oral exams if they wish to resit them, or the SEC should facilitate mitigation measures for access to third level, Ó Laoghaire said.

“We know that a significant number of students have been penalised through no fault of their own. The Department of Education and the SEC cannot let this lie,” he said.

Similarly, Solidarity TD Mick Barry said the issue “should not be hushed up or covered up”.

“We need to know how many students have been directly affected by these mistakes. It must be said loudly and clearly that no exam candidate will lose a single mark for any problem with their oral exam that they are not themselves responsible for,” Barry said.

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“Rather than being addressed after the written exams, this issue should be addressed immediately. Students who are sitting stressful exams this week need and deserve these reassurances.”

The guidance the SEC gave to schools on carrying out oral exams this year outlined that the commission would “only be in a position to mark the interviews as submitted by the schools”.

Schools were asked to test their recording equipment before the exams and to test the quality of each individual recording to make sure voices were not muffled by masks.

They were told that it is “imperative” for interviewers to read instructions carefully and carry out the instructions “correctly and diligently”.

“They must be clear about what is required of them, so that appropriate evidence of each candidate’s level of achievement is elicited and recorded in accordance with the instructions,” the SEC said.

“This will ensure that all candidates’ work can be assessed accurately and fairly. Failure to do this could mean that candidates’ work cannot be assessed fairly and in line with the work of other candidates,” it said.

“SEC examiners will only be able to credit candidates for evidence of language proficiency demonstrated by them during the interview, as elicited by the interviewer.”

The oral exams were held in late March and early April.

The SEC is committed to ensuring fairness and quality in all aspects of the examinations to the greatest degree possible. This has been and continues to be a pillar of the organisation’s approach.

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