Exam commission blames cuts for Leaving Cert errors

Demands imposed by the Project Maths syllabus also contributed, says report

Report describs complex nature of commission’s role in compiling second-level examinations,  Photographer: Dara Mac Dónaill

Report describs complex nature of commission’s role in compiling second-level examinations, Photographer: Dara Mac Dónaill

Mon, Aug 19, 2013, 01:00

Departmental cutbacks caused by the crisis in the public finances played a part in errors that marred some of this year’s Leaving Cert papers, according to a report by the State Examinations Commission.

The demands placed on personnel by the introduction of the Project Maths syllabus also contributed to undetected errors, it said.

There were a number of errors, with the most serious in higher and ordinary maths papers and a Junior Cert maths question. One, on higher-level maths paper 2, was sufficient to affect a student’s ability to answer the question and this had to be taken into account when the papers were marked.

Minister for Education Ruairí Quinn asked the commission for a report into the errors and yesterday released its details. Its main conclusion was that the main reason for the mistakes was “human error”.


Concerns
It acknowledged that the level of errors in the 2013 papers was “unacceptably high” and that a few of the errors made it difficult for some candidates to answer the question.

Mr Quinn expressed concerns about the errors. He remained “confident”, however, that the commission had a “robust system in place” to respond to errors.

“The commission was very disappointed there were errors that affected the students,” its chairman Dick Langford said yesterday.

The commission also issued an apology in the report. “The SEC deeply regrets all of the errors in the 2013 papers and apologises to the candidates affected. Specific measures have been implemented in the marking process so that candidates have not been disadvantaged as a result of these errors.”

Public finances

The report described the complex nature of the commission’s role in compiling second-level examinations, saying more than 23,000 people had a direct role in accomplishing this every year. Paper-preparation took up to 18 months and involved a number of steps to reduce the possibility of errors.

While the goal was to preside over an examination system that was “completely error-free”, the reality was that “this will always be an aspiration rather than a completely achievable goal.

The report added, however, that the commission had undergone “significant and unplanned rapid change” caused by the “crisis in the public finances”. This included the departure of more than 40 per cent of the assessment division of the commission.

The report also cited the impact on the Junior and Leaving Cert curriculums caused by the “substantial change under the Government’s Project Maths initiative”. Its introduction required a “very large increase” in the number of papers to be produced during the transition to Project Maths. Yet staff departures caused a loss of corporate memory and experience.