Leaving Cert marks are altered as part of ‘unwritten policy’, claim examiners

Sources say some grades are changed to ensure consistent results each year

An exam hall in a Dublin school between State exams. File photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times

An exam hall in a Dublin school between State exams. File photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times

 

Examiners involved in marking Leaving Cert papers have claimed there is an unwritten policy to alter the marks of selected students’ scripts in order to ensure consistent grades each year.

A number of well-placed sources say the practice involves targeting certain exam papers whose grades can be easily manipulated because they are close to “grade boundaries”.

The allegations emerge days after The Irish Times reported details of an unpublished State Examinations Commission (SEC) research paper which found the marking process was “rushed”, “unfair” and risked “compromising the accuracy of students’ grades”.

Examiners have now described a system where, for example, if there are too many high grades or H1s in an exam, a selected number of previously corrected exams are targeted for adjustment downwards.

It is claimed this practice takes place late in the marking process and is aimed at keeping year-on-year results consistent.

‘Inherently unfair’

One experienced examiner, who declined to be named, said the process was “inherently unfair” because of the targeted way marks for selected students’ scripts are revised.

“I’ve had scripts where on a Friday they were As or H1s, but by the Monday they became Bs after I was told to revise marks,” said the examiner.

Another examiner said evidence of the practice is hidden by adjusting marks for subjective questions where, for example, a student’s opinion is sought. “Those marks are easier to adjust, and not ones which have a clear, factual answer . . . You can hide your tracks in the marking scheme.”

However, the SEC has rejected the allegations and insisted the “open and transparent nature of the appeals process would shine an immediate light on this” as students would see this in their marked scripts.

“All candidates are awarded marks in accordance with the application of the finalised and published marking scheme,” it said.

‘Grade boundary’

“Examiners are expressly instructed by the SEC that if a candidate’s response to any particular question merits a certain mark according to the appropriate application of the marking scheme and standard then this is the mark that is awarded, regardless of where that candidate’s overall mark sits in relation to a grade boundary.”

Minister for Education Joe McHugh said this week he was satisfied with the SEC’s strong reassurances the marking process was fair and “fit for purpose”.

However, Fianna Fáil’s education spokesman Thomas Byrne said the report’s findings and latest allegations were “deeply concerning”.

“These are problems which have the potential to go to the very heart of the fairness of the Leaving Cert,” he said.

Mr Byrne said it was vital that Ireland’s marking processes follow “best international practice”.