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Dáil Question on Leaving Certificate Failure Policy – 3rd November 2015

Uimhir:986 Ceist Pharlaiminte
Chun an Aire Oideachais agus Eolaíoctha
To the Minister for Education and Science

To ask the Minister for Education and Skills if she will confirm if there is a
policy in place whereby a definite percentage of students sitting each Leaving
Certificate subject will fail every year; if so, if this a set figure, or does
it change according to the year in question; if this decision is made before
the paper is given to the students; her views that this policy discourages
students from taking particular subjects, such as honours maths, which will
have a negative impact on project maths; and if she will make a statement on
the matter.
– Anthony Lawlor.

* For WRITTEN answer on Tuesday, 3rd November, 2015.
Reference Number: 38083/15

Minister Jan O’Sullivan

Standards are established for new syllabuses in Ireland in advance of
examining. The approach taken is sometimes described as a “college of
professionals” approach. In the first instance, a group of people who are
deemed to have an expert knowledge of what the students in the target audience
ought to be able to achieve in the subject concerned reach a consensus
regarding the content standards of the syllabus. This is achieved through the
various committees in the National Council for Curriculum and Assessment (NCCA).

Following on this, these content standards are then put into effect as a set of
performance standards by the State Examinations Commission (SEC). Once these
performance standards have been tested, reviewed and fully established, the
SEC, in accordance with its Establishment Order, then endeavours to ensure that
the standards remain consistent over time.

As part of its remit the SEC is charged with maintaining standards year on year
and it endeavours to achieve this by the processes it has in place for the
preparation of examination papers and other test items, and by the quality
assurance procedures it implements at the examining and appeal stages of the
state examinations.

All of the SEC’s examinations are prepared in accordance with the principles
outlined in the document, The Preparation of Test Items – Principles and
Protocol, available on its website at www.examinations.ie. Similarly, all
examinations are assessed in accordance with the key assessment principles of
validity and reliability.

In order to maintain standards, the Chief Examiner for each examination takes
all necessary steps to ensure that the examination paper, the marking scheme
and its application combine to ensure that established standard are maintained.

Standards of achievement of large cohorts of students do not radically change
in the space of a year. A certain amount of variation from year to year may
happen, and a gradual change in the pattern of grades may occur over time,
provided the subject experts involved are satisfied that it reflects real
changes in achievement. Furthermore, syllabus change and other deliberate
interventions may impact on grade patterns, as may changes to the size or
composition of the cohort.

The examinations are marked by examiners, (generally experienced teachers in
the subject), who work under the overall direction and management of the Chief
Examiner for the subject. Examiners normally mark scripts from a number of
schools. Examiners do not know either the region or the schools from which the
papers they mark are drawn. They have sight only of examination centre numbers
and candidate numbers, thus maintaining the anonymity of the system. There are
no ‘quotas’ applied to the number of grades, including E, F and NG, coming
from any examination centre or indeed from the overall batch of scripts
allocated to any examiner or the cohort generally.

The marking process is overseen by a team consisting of the Chief Examiner, a
Chief Advising Examiner and a number of Advising Examiners, who monitor and
advise the examiners in their work. The Chief Examiner and the advisory team
test the draft marking scheme at a two day pre-conference. During the
pre-conference, the draft marking scheme is also considered in the light of
commentary and correspondence from teachers, professional bodies and other
interested parties, before being applied to exemplars of candidates’ work.

All examiners attend at a training conference prior to commencing the marking.
The training process involves the use of exemplars of candidates’ work both for
standardising purposes and for purposes of training examiners in the consistent
application of the marking scheme. Random sampling is conducted in the early
stages of the marking which serves to assist in the appropriate adjustment,
clarification and refinement of the marking scheme as well as an initial
quality assurance on the work of examiners. If the grade distribution differs
substantially from the established norm, this is interrogated to determine the
underlying factors and where appropriate adjustments may be made to the marking
scheme before the full marking process executes. Once the marking scheme has
been finalised, the marking proceeds, subject to rigorous ongoing monitoring of
the process.

Ongoing and systematic monitoring is a critical element of the marking
process. The monitoring is designed to enable each examiner to apply the
agreed marking scheme consistently and accurately to all scripts. A minimum of
5% of the scripts, marked by each examiner, is monitored by Advising Examiners
during the course of the marking. As a consequence of this examiners who are
found to be off-standard are required to remark all scripts that had been
marked to that point. This may result in grade changes. Advising Examiners
are also available to the examiners for consultation and advice throughout the
marking period.

The marking schemes in each Leaving Certificate subject are published shortly
after the issue of the examination results and in advance of the viewing of
their scripts by candidates. These are issued to all schools and are available
to download from the SEC’s website. The Junior Certificate marking schemes are
published on the website.

A formal appeals process is provided by the State Examinations Commission. It
is open to every candidate to appeal the result awarded in any particular
subject. The appeals system involves a sophisticated combination of measures.
Candidates are provided with the option to view the marked scripts and are also
provided with the facility to comment on the marking through a dedicated form.
Appealed scripts are re-marked in accordance with the same standard as applied
in the initial marking, and the same marking scheme as utilised in the initial
marking. Candidates may also view the appealed script after the appeal marking.

Quality assurance measures are in place at each stage of the appeal process to
ensure that the marking scheme is applied fairly to the work of each candidate.
If a candidate is still dissatisfied with the result after the appeals marking
has concluded, he/she has recourse to a review by the Independent Appeals
Scrutineers and beyond that to the Ombudsman.