Review into Leaving Cert errors focused on a ‘sample’ of coding

Disclosure prompts calls for a full inquiry to establish if there are further errors

Minister for Education Norma Foley expressed regret to students for what had happened at a press conference

Minister for Education Norma Foley expressed regret to students for what had happened at a press conference

 

An independent review of errors in the calculated grading process which led to thousands of students receiving the wrong results only focused on a sample of coding used in the process, it has emerged.

The disclosure has prompted calls from the Labour Party for a full, comprehensive and independent inquiry to establish if there are further errors which may affect other students.

The Department of Education hired a US firm – Education Testing Services (ETS) – to provide an independent expert opinion of the coding involved in the calculated grades process.

This followed two errors discovered almost a fortnight ago in coding provided by Polymetrika International Inc, a Canadian company.

In a statement, ETS said that in the context of its contracted work and the need to complete it in a “a very short timeframe”, it necessarily involved “an audit of a sampling of the coding rather than a full audit of the entire coding”.

In sampling the coding, it said ETS and the department agreed that “certain areas of coding should be prioritised within the available timeframe”.

Errors

ETS discovered another two errors in the coding last week, on top of the two that were already known about.

Some 6,100 Leaving Cert students across 610 schools have received text messages and emails from the department informing them that they will get upgrades as a result of the errors.

Most students (5,408) received a higher grade by a single grade band in a single subject. This is equivalent to 10 CAO points in a higher level subject.

A further 612 students received a higher grade in two subjects, while 71 students received a higher grade in three or more subjects. The maximum number of grades upgraded for one student was five.

Minister for Education Norma Foley expressed regret to students for what had happened at a press conference.

“You have had an exceptionally difficult year. I’m sorry for that. And I’m sorry this last week delivered more uncertainty to you.”

She said when errors were discovered in the code, she decided to seek independent expert oversight.

However, Labour Party spokesman for education Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said the fact that this review covered a sample of the code underlined the need for a comprehensive inquiry.

“What’s really concerning is that we are still nowhere close to finding out the full picture of what went wrong and how many students are affected,” he said.

“Now, we’ve found out that there were multiple errors in just a sample of the code. This is a sorry mess.”

He called on the Minister to establish an independent inquiry with a wide remit and a deadline to report before the end of the year.

Ms Foley’s department has defended its decision to hire Canadian firm Polymetrika, which it said was responsible for coding errors which resulted in wrong grades being issued.

‘No comment’

It has been paid a total of €163,000 by the Department of Education without a tendering process.

The department said a full procurement process did not take place on the basis that there was “insufficient time” to do so.

The registered address for Polymetrika International Inc – 150 Hinchey Avenue – is a residential home in Ottawa, according to company records.

The company CEO is listed as Fernando Cartwright, and business records list the residential home on Hinchey Avenue as the company’s only address.

Attempts to reach the company for comment have been unsuccessful. A woman who answered the door at the address on Thursday last said Mr Cartwright was not available.

When asked about Polymetrika, the woman said “no comment” and shut the door.

In a statement, a department spokesman said Polymetrika has recognised expertise in what is a “highly technical and specialised field”.

It said its principal, Mr Cartwright, is a former senior researcher at the Canadian Council for Learning and also worked with Statistics Canada.

The spokesman said Mr Cartwright has worked in Ireland in the past and has an established relationship both with the Educational Research Centre in Drumcondra and the Department of Education and Skills, and has an understanding of the Irish education system.