The Irish Times view on calculated grades: fairness and equity are paramount

If some categories of Leaving Cert students lose out, every effort must be made to accommodate them

The Government is hopeful that it has done enough to navigate its way through what is a complex minefield to ensure students are treated fairly in the new calculated grades process.

The Government is hopeful that it has done enough to navigate its way through what is a complex minefield to ensure students are treated fairly in the new calculated grades process.

 

There has been mounting anxiety in recent weeks among Leaving Certificate students and their parents over the release of calculated grades by the Department of Education. Understandably so. They have seen how the United Kingdom’s system collapsed amid controversy over the unfairness of the process. Algorithms aimed at standardising the results across schools resulted in 40 per cent of students being downgraded while disadvantaged students suffered worst of all. In the end, the system was abandoned and teachers’ estimated grades were accepted. Could similar chaos unfold here when calculated grades are released on Monday?

The announcement of revised methodology for calculated grades, approved at Cabinet on Tuesday, may help avoid many of the pitfalls witnessed in the UK. The UK prioritised the system over the individual by focusing heavily on producing a profile of results in conformity with previous years. It did not take into consideration the effect such adjustments would have on the original predicted grades submitted by teachers. It also excluded smaller classes which ended up benefitting the most affluent schools.

The Irish system, according to Minister for Education Norma Foley, will place a much heavier emphasis on teachers’ predicted grades. These will be subject to a standardisation process to help ensure there is consistency in how grades have been awarded. Significantly, plans to include “school profiling” have been dropped. This controversial measure was due to take into account an individual school’s track record in the last three years in determining a student’s grade. This has been removed from the process, in light of controversy across the water. Department officials insist the final calculated grades in Ireland will not impact unfairly on students in disadvantaged schools. If anything, they are less likely to be downgraded and more likely to be upgraded.

No system is perfect, however, and it seems there will be winners and losers. For example, we are told that grades this year will be “stronger” which will lead to some grade inflation. This will impact most heavily on up to 20,000 college applicants this year who are using results for exams they sat in previous years. Department officials say the release of an additional 1,000-plus higher education places may ease some of this points pressure.

As of now, the Government is hopeful it has done enough to navigate its way through what is a complex minefield to ensure students are treated fairly. However, the complexion of results may look entirely different at an individual level. If it emerges that some categories of students lose out, every effort must be made to accommodate them. Equity must be at the heart of how grades are awarded. For now, students can only wait and hope that they system will treat them fairly.