More uncertainty after errors found in Calculated Grades

As worrisome as the 2020 Leaving Certificate exams were, many of the students felt relieved after the decision was made to move to Calculated Grades instead. Little did they know that the autumn would bring more concerns. Laura Matjusaityte explored how the calculated grades affected students this year.

Photo taken by Sinéad Cochrane. Sourced from Flickr.

It all started on April 10th when the decision was made to postpone Leaving Certificate exams due to the dangers posed by Covid-19. 

As the usual order of things was jeopardised by the pandemic, a further decision was taken and the Leaving Certificate examinations were replaced by a system of Calculated Grades.  

In order to forecast students’ grades the system took the estimated marks, decided by teachers and reviewed by other authorities, and predicted the grades that students would have received if examinations would have taken place. 

Many students interviewed by reporters back in March believed that Calculated Grades would be the best option in such circumstances. 

When the results came out on the 7th of September a wave of errors followed. 

Oisin Tiernan from Wexford shared his experience saying that he was “delighted with the grades” that he got and was able to secure the CAO place that he wanted. 

“For the most part, I think 95 per cent of people I’ve talked to have been happy with their grades”, Oisin said, acknowledging that in his opinion, Calculated Grades were “a good decision”. 

“I got grades that I was very happy with, that I felt reflected my work perfectly”, Oisin added. 

Oisin secured his first choice CAO place in UCD studying Politics and International Relations. 

The Department of Education and Skills acknowledged on September 30th that two errors occurred in Calculated Grades, according to independent experts’ from the Education Testing Service (ETS). 

To calculate the grades, students’ scores from Irish, English and Maths as well as scores from two subjects with the highest marks were meant to be used. Instead, the system calculating the grades added two subjects with the weakest marks. This led to some students receiving lower grades than what their scores would have actually been. 

The second error occurred on how algorithms regarded students’ grades on the extreme ends of the scale, i.e students who score from 99 percent to 100 percent and zero percent to one percent.

According to the ETS statement, the second error would not have had a “magnificent impact on results”. 

Another student named Kate McAuliffe secured her first choice in Law in UCC. She said she was “happy enough” with her results, even though she felt she got “downgraded in some of the subjects”. 

“I only know one person who didn’t get their first choice in CAO and they were in a grind school,” Kate said.

“Overall in my own experience and looking at my own friends group, I think a lot of people were quite happy,” she added. 

Kate has rejected the UCC offer as she accepted a place in University of London instead. She is studying online at the moment and waiting impatiently until she will be able to move to London. 

The Department of Education and Skills issued a statement last week acknowledging that nearly 7,000 grades will be increased after the errors will be fixed, which will affect over 6,000 students. 

It was noted that no student will receive lower grades due to the process. 

This means that many students who will receive higher grades will be eligible for their first CAO choices. 

CAO released a statement declaring that all students with upgraded results will be included in the Round 4 offers. 

It is still unknown if all 6,100 students affected by the errors in Calculated Grades will be facilitated to commence to the courses which they otherwise would have been offered in the first place.

It is estimated that there will be another 450 new applications to Technological University Dublin after the fourth round, according to TUD spokesperson Melda Slattery. “We believe that approximately 20 percent, around 85 students, will be entitled to receive an offer from TU Dublin”, she added. 

As the new academic year already started a few weeks ago, many students joining through Round 4 will have to catch up with their peers. 

Ms Slattery acknowledged that the university will do “everything possible” to facilitate new applicants. 

By the time of the publication the Higher Education Authority and CAO did not respond to questions on how they are planning to facilitate all students with upgraded results in courses of their choice. 

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