Gender bias and predicted grades


Sir, – A decision has been made to use predicted grades again for the 2021 Leaving Certificate, as well as optional actual exams. When teachers and schools are predicting the grades of their students, they should be aware that in 2020 there was a bias in favour of female students and against male students. How do I know there was bias against males? The Department of Education report on the predicted grades in 2020 says so and has some interesting data to illustrate it.

The bias is widespread, but is most acute at the higher end of higher-level results. For example, let’s take higher-level maths. Over the three previous years, 21.8 per cent of male students got either H1 or H2. In 2020, when predicted grades were given, this figure went up to 23 per cent. Over the three previous years, 14.4 per cent of female students got either H1 or H2. This went up to an astonishing 24 per cent when predicted grades were given in 2020. The boys had been well ahead of girls over the years but were actually given predicted grades in 2020 which were worse than those given to girls.

The “unconscious estimation bias” (as the report calls it) of teachers against male students is startling. The department said that it was unable to do anything about this bias because it did not want to change the order in which individual teachers rated their students.

The National Standardisation Group, which compiled the report, concluded that “recognising the potential for gender bias and offering clear guidance to schools at the time of the school-based phase was the only viable means available to the Department to mitigate this difficulty”.

A 27-page Guide to the Leaving Certificate and Accredited Grades 2021 has just been issued to schools and teachers by the the department.

It makes no specific mention of gender bias. It simply says, “Schools and teachers will work collaboratively to ensure that no bias, conscious or unconscious, influences the decisions made in relation to a student’s expected performance.”

What it does not say is, “You got it wrong last year. Would you mind being fairer to your male students this year than you were in 2020?”

Maybe The Irish Times will have to be the one that says this.– Yours, etc,




Co Wicklow.