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Removal of school profiling may have affected ‘accuracy’ of Leaving Cert results, study says

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Removing “school profiling” from the calculated grades process for Leaving Cert students may have affected the accuracy of the final results, according to a Department of Education study.

The plan to take account of schools’ Leaving Cert performance over a three-year period sparked significant controversy over the summer.

A 200-page technical report compiled by a group of officials which oversaw a key stage of the calculated grades process includes a detailed examination of the “credibility of the process”.

It states: “From a statistically purist perspective, standardisation could certainly have been rendered more accurate at an overall level if the ‘school historical information’ had remained available for use…”

The report says this was the vehicle through which school effectiveness was to be incorporated into the standardisation process, which adjusted students’ grades up and down for consistency.

However, it goes on to state there was “little to be gained by increasing the accuracy of the standardisation process if, by doing so, one runs a real risk of losing public support in the process”.

Opposition parties argued it would penalise disadvantaged students by constraining their performance to the average of the school.

While the Government initially defended the use of the information, Minister for Education Norma Foley later received Cabinet approval to remove it from the standardisation process on September 1st.

She said this was the fairest approach because it removed any risk that a Leaving Cert student’s results could be impacted by the performance of their school in previous years.

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However, many students from high-achieving schools argue that they were disadvantaged as a result.

A number of schools have said their results in many subjects this year were significantly lower than their historical performances despite overall grade inflation this year.

The report from the department’s National Standardisation Group also states that a “clear tension emerged late in the day” regarding the degree to which there would be public support for the substantial levels of adjustment to school estimates that would have been required to bring the calculated grades back into line with national historical norms.

It said the group noted the Minister’s concerns in this regard, and the corresponding decision to focus efforts on the alignment of standards as accurately as possible across the 2020 cohort of Leaving Cert students.

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