Some teachers feel pressure from schools, parents to inflate Leaving Cert grades

Vast majority of teachers felt they were fair to students in estimating marks, study says

The findings are contained in a preliminary survey of more than 700 secondary teachers who were involved in last year’s calculated grades process, which required teachers to assess their own pupils for State certification for the first time. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/Irish Times

The findings are contained in a preliminary survey of more than 700 secondary teachers who were involved in last year’s calculated grades process, which required teachers to assess their own pupils for State certification for the first time. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw/Irish Times

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Some teachers felt pressure from their schools and parents to inflate students' Leaving Cert marks during last year’s calculated grades process, according to a new study.

The findings are contained in a preliminary survey of more than 700 secondary teachers who were involved in last year’s calculated grades process, which required teachers to assess their own pupils for State certification for the first time.

The DCU report shows the vast majority of teachers – 87 per cent – expressed confidence in their professional judgements and felt they were fair to their students.

However, one in three – just over 250 respondents – commented on how the calculated process made them feel such as the stress of ranking their own students, bias on the part of their colleagues and tension over whether to inflate grades.

Some teachers reported feeling under pressure when meeting students’ parents out shopping or from school management to “juice up” pupils’ estimated marks during the grading process.

One teacher commented that a student’s parents had not spoken to them since the results because they believed their child was awarded an “unfair” grade.

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In another case, a teacher said their school management “failed the integrity test” when overseeing grades, while another pointed to “grotesque” levels of grade inflation.

“There were unconscionable interventions on behalf of school management to juice up the numbers too – teachers were asked to ‘find grades’ that could be moved up. Nothing was moved down,” wrote another teacher.

Regret

Some teachers expressed regret over not giving higher estimated marks and said they would intentionally inflate their students’ marks in calculated grades applied in future.

“I have a very fair and honest judgement of what my students would have achieved if they had sat the Leaving Cert and my students were downgraded... if this happens again, I would have to inflate my grades too so as not to disadvantage my students,” one wrote.

Another commented: “I am annoyed that I didn’t inflate the grades as obviously as other teachers in the country were doing this. I feel my students were unfairly disadvantaged.”

The DCU report, by academics Audrey Doyle, Zita Lysaght and Michael O’Leary, found many teachers identified challenges in areas such as decision-making around marks at grade boundaries, combining assessment data, reconciling inconsistencies in student performance and maintaining an unbiased position with respect to individual students.

For example, 38 per cent of teachers said they found it difficult to remain unbiased when marking their students’ work

Even though some respondents voiced concerns about how school colleagues arrived at their decisions, most believed that meetings held to align marks between colleagues teaching the same subject in individual schools worked well.

While many respondents said they would not engage in a calculated grades process in the future, others indicated overall satisfaction with the process in the context of exceptional circumstances and highlighting the potential benefits it offered some students.

Opinion was sharply divided on the extent to which the calculated grade experience would inform efforts to reform the senior cycle.