Jess Casey: Questions left unanswered for students awaiting calculated grades

Awaiting details on how downgrades or increases have been distributed across the subjects or across the levels
Jess Casey: Questions left unanswered for students awaiting calculated grades

Education Minister Norma Foley bowed to pressure to remove 'school proflling' from calculations. Picture: Sasko Lazarov/

After months of twists and turns, postponements, and worry, the end is almost in sight for thousands of Leaving Cert students across the country. 

Monday morning, the vast majority of students will receive their calculated grades online, almost six months to the day they last sat in a classroom. First-round offers of college places are then expected to be issued on Friday, September 11. 

A year like no other, more details of the calculated grades process were made available this week by the Department of Education. With a couple of days to go to results day, there are some questions still outstanding about the process. 

We now know that the vast majority of 'school-estimated grades', the mark decided on by a student's teachers and signed off on by a principal, were unchanged following the Department of Education's standardisation process. However, we also found out this week that 63,000 grades have been lowered by the process, and 16,000 increased. 

Approximately 400 more have been lowered by two or more grades. We don't know how these downgrades or increases have been distributed across the subjects or across the levels, Higher, Ordinary and Foundation. But we are expected to receive further information about this as results are issued. 

We also found out this week that a school's track record in how its students perform in the Leaving Cert will now not be a factor included in the standardisation model. Politically this was unpopular, and Norma Foley, the minister for education, and her predecessor Joe McHugh, faced regular calls to remove 'school profiling' from the calculations. 

The department is also confident that its model recognises stronger performing students in "traditionally lower-performing schools", so long as schools have identified these students in their data. 

The department maintains that its model does not show any negative effects against disadvantaged schools. This is what happened with the model used in the UK on its A-Level results, where students at poorer schools were more likely to have their grades brought down. It examined how the system would work if historic school-by-school data was removed, and then decided to remove this data. 

While processing is still underway, more than 80% of school-estimated grades in Deis schools are unchanged, which is largely in line with the percentage of grades that have stayed the same in non-Deis schools. On the other hand, almost 14% of grades were reduced in Deis schools, compared to almost 17% in non-Deis schools. 

We also know from this week that results this year will be higher than in previous years, and we can expect to see ‘grade-inflation’ but to what extent we’re not sure yet. This week, the department confirmed it has prioritised recognising the “exceptional circumstances” students faced this year ahead of eliminating grade inflation as any system would in a usual year. 

Grade inflation essentially boils down to the awarding of a higher grade than is deserving, and the practice tends to cause much despair in academic circles. The model being used by the department actually does allow for some grade inflation to occur, but “seeks to have results broadly comparable across schools.”  

Roughly one in four applicants (20,000) to the CAO this year are presenting results from previous years, and this is expected to affect them. Around half of the applicants are students who sat their Leaving Cert last year.

Results will be stronger this year than in others, but increases in grades are also expected to vary, depending on the subject. We still don't know if this means significant jumps across several grades or just the slightest of increases. We also don't know what the exact effect this will all have on the so-called 'points race'. 

We do know, however, that an additional 1,250 places in 'high-demand' courses in areas like healthcare and teaching are being added to help ease some of the pressure off CAO points. This move has been welcomed by representatives of the higher-level sector. 

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