Billy Ryle: Students Deserve Answers After Coding Error Fiasco

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Billy Ryle says the 17% of Leaving Cert candidates, about 10,000 young people, whose teachers’ calculated results were downgraded by an error-strewn Canadian algorithm are entitled to ask why…

There was considerable disappointment when CAO Round Four offers were published on Thursday morning as only 485 applicants from a total of 6100, who were upgraded due to errors in the calculated grades algorithm, received a higher preference college offer.

There was some concern, since the correction errors were revealed last week, that a large number of applicants would lose out on preferred courses because the colleges are bursting at the seams, having already registered 4,000 extra students this year. The concern was justified.

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6100 candidates from the entire 2020 Leaving Cert Class received improved exam grades on Saturday evening following the review of the calculated grades algorithm by Educational Training Service (ETS), a USA company specialising in educational measurement.

6870 grades from 614 exam centres throughout the country were increased. 5408 candidates received a higher grade in one subject. 621 candidates received a higher grade in two subjects and 71candidates received a higher grade in three or more subjects.

Two errors were initially discovered in the algorithm, or coding, used to implement the standardisation process by Polymetrika International Inc. of Canada.

The two coding errors were corrected and as a further check, ETS was contracted to review the coding system. ETS discovered a third error due to inaccurate use of data.

Because of the very short timeframe available to it last week, ETS apparently only carried out an audit of a sample of the coding used, not a full audit of the entire code. If that was the case, it wasn’t the smartest course of action in view of the high stakes involved.

Its beggars’ belief that any reputable psychometric company could make such basic errors, in writing an algorithm, with such serious consequences for thousands of young people.

The question needs to be asked why the Dept. of Education outsourced the standardisation to Canadian and USA companies when there is superior expertise in educational measurement available in Ireland.

The three errors meant that 6100 candidates initially received grades in the Leaving Cert that were lower than they were entitled to. 7950 candidates were also awarded higher grades than they were entitled to, but none of these students will be downgraded.

It is a tradition in the exams system, that once a grade is issued to a candidate, it is never reduced. Similarly, once a college place is offered and accepted, it is never withdrawn.

Because of the errors emerging from the calculated grades coding instrument, it’s time for the Dept. of Education to revisit the results of 17%, about 10,000 Leaving Cert candidates, whose calculated grades were downgraded by Polymetrika International Inc. before the errors were identified.

These young people have a right to know from the Dept. of Education what coding system was used to downgrade them!

In addition, candidates who presented Leaving Cert results from previous years were thrown to the wolves by the calculated grades system. In the interest of fairness, all of these CAO applicants should be considered for college places on the basis of the 2019 CAO points.

A total of 886 applicants received an offer in Round Four on Thursday. Each applicant has until 3pm on Tuesday 13th October to accept the offer if s/he wishes to do so. A candidate who does not wish to accept the new offer need take no action.

An applicant who wishes to defer the offer of a college place should not accept it now. Instead, s/he must contact the Admissions Office of the offering institution immediately by email with the text ‘Deferred Entry’ in the subject line of the email.

Further information about deferring an offer of a college place is available on page 19 of the CAO Handbook and on the CAO website,

• Billy Ryle is a Career Guidance Counsellor and Educational Commentator

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