Leaving Cert: 6,500 students awarded lower grade due to code errors

Government will work with colleges to give places to those who missed out

The Minister for Education has apologised for errors which resulted in at least 6,500 students receiving a lower grade than they ought to have received.

Norma Foley said any students affected will be upgraded and every effort will be made to ensure those affected will not miss out on college places which they qualify for in light of upgrades.

She said the errors may have resulted in some students receiving higher grades than they were supposed to. However, their grades will stand.

“These are errors which should not have occurred. However, the error will not disadvantage any student,” Ms Foley said.

Two errors in the coding process in calculating grades which were identified by a Canadian firm which was involved in the grading process, Polymetrika International Inc.

Students affected by the grading errors will be contacted by text message and they will receive a revised set of grades.

Ms Foley said the number of students affected is indicative and the full scale of errors will not be definitively established until over the coming days.

The errors relate to the way students’ Junior Cert grades were calculated to form an estimated achievement profile for a class.

This was supposed to identify an achievement profile based on students in Irish, English and maths and their two strongest subjects.

Instead, it resulted in students’ two weakest subjects forming part of the expected achievement profile for the class.

A second error related to the use of CSPE (Civic, Social and Political Education) in these Junior Cert class profiles. This subject was meant to be omitted from the process, however, it was included in some cases.

Polymetricka International has received about €160,000 for its work in process relating to the calculated grades process.

Corrections for most students relate to one subject with a smaller number getting an upgrade in more than one subject.

She said the Government will work with higher education institutions to ensure students affected by the grades controversy will not miss out on college places.

Initial investigations in the Department of Education found it will only have made a difference for a minority of students in whether they received their first CAO choice or not.

It is understood that the CAO has agreed to deal with the new grades as if they were successful appeals, and an attempt will be made to give offers in the next CAO round to those students for whom it would have made a difference.

“When the revised grades are issued the CAO and the Higher Education Institutions will establish which students receiving corrected results would have been eligible for a higher preference offer in previous rounds of the CAO process,” the department said in a statement.

It is believed that the error first came to light some days ago and was being investigated, before it was raised by the Labour Party leader Alan Kelly in the Dáil today.

Integrity of system

Taoiseach Micheál Martin earlier told the Dáil that the Department of Education has found two errors in the Leaving Certificate calculated grades system.

Mr Martin stressed that there would be a full independent external evaluation of the process, which he said was a technical issue linked to coding.

One Government source said the errors may have led to some students being wrongly downgraded by up to 10 percentage points.

University sources said this will be very difficult in the case of high-demand courses such as dentistry and medicine, for which all places have been allocated. The disclosure has rocked confidence in the integrity of the calculated grades process.

Many students have complained that they were unfairly downgraded, especially students in schools with a strong track record of achievement.

The Taoiseach made the comments in response to Mr Kelly who said the Department of Education has “gone to ground” over students who were appealing their calculated grades results.

Mr Martin said the priority was to inform students first who might have grades changed as a result of the error.

Speaking later during Taoiseach’s questions, Mr Martin said: “My understanding is that the department would have been alerted to this by the company Polymetrica who discovered the error in the code initially”.

Mr Martin said Polymetrica was appointed to provide outside expertise when the decision was made to go the route of calculated grading because the department did not have coding expertise.

““The department have since been correcting the piece of code. It is now operating as intended” and they were satisfied there were no further errors.

A separate company from the United States, Education and Testing Services – a non-profit organisation which specialises in educational measurement – has been brought in to go through the entire system.

Mr Kelly described it as an “absolute cock-up” and said that if it had been any other Government it would have been brought down. He said that had he not raised the issue, they would not have been dealing with it.

Mr Kelly said there were students doing courses and wondering if they would still be in them next week.

Sinn Féin leader Mary Lou McDonald, who asked when the Taoiseach first heard about the errors, said he needed to give absolute assurances that there were no further errors.

The President of the Association of Secondary Teachers Ireland (ASTI) Ann Piggott, has said teachers are shocked and disappointed.

“ Teachers took part in the Calculated Grades Process in good faith and we were assured that the process was robust and fair for students. Teachers I have spoken to are very concerned about the impact of today’s announcement on those students affected, as well as the entire class of 2020 who have endured so much stress and uncertainty this year,” said Ms Piggott.

“While the discovery of errors is extremely upsetting for students and teachers, there is some comfort in the news that some students will receive their proper elevated grades and that no student will be downgraded.

“It is essential that students affected by the errors can access the courses they are eligible for without delay. In addition, the Department of Education and Skills must complete a thorough and full investigation of this matter immediately,” she said.