Wednesday 26 October 2016

Leaving Cert appeal process is fair, transparent and accessible

In my opinion... Aidan Farrell

Published 13/10/2016 | 02:30

Aidan Farrell is the Chief Executive Officer of the State Examinations Commission.
Aidan Farrell is the Chief Executive Officer of the State Examinations Commission.

As the State Examinations Commission (SEC) issues the outcomes of appeals of Leaving Certificate provisional results today, it is useful to explain the appeals process, and in particular to point out just how rigorous and fair a process it is.

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The purpose of the process is to set right any injustices done in the original marking and grading. With almost 800,000 individual items being marked, it is inevitable that errors will happen, despite the extensive monitoring of the work of examiners.

Because of this, we have a robust appeal system that is fair, transparent and accessible.

Before appealing, candidates can view their marked scripts in their school, accompanied by a person of their choice (such as a parent or teacher). The published marking schemes are supplied, so that the candidates can see how the scheme has been applied to their work.

When candidates appeal, they can state any concerns they have about the original marking.

Every appealed script is dealt with by a different examiner from the one who first marked it. The appeal examiners do not just confine themselves to issues raised by the candidate - they re-mark the work in full in line with the original marking scheme. They are required to respond to any issues raised by the candidate.

After the appeal results issue, candidates can again view their re-marked scripts accompanied by a person of their choice. As well as the script, they can view the responses of the appeal examiner to any concerns they had raised about the original marking.

If still unhappy, candidates can refer their appeal to a panel of Independent Appeal Scrutineers, who are fully independent of the staff and management of the SEC and the marking teams. The candidates again have the option of raising any outstanding issues of concern regarding the marking of their work.

The Scrutineers review our entire processing of the appeal so as to provide assurance to the candidate that it has been correctly carried out. They check that all issues raised by the candidate have been properly dealt with by the Chief Examiner, to whom the script will have been referred if there are any such outstanding issues. The SEC must implement all decisions of the Scrutineers.

After all of this, candidates who believe that they have not been treated fairly by us have recourse to the Office of the Ombudsman, who is independent of Government and agencies like the SEC.

Fairness demands that the work of all candidates be marked according to the same standards and criteria. This is a challenge when large teams of examiners are involved. This challenge is met by using clear marking schemes, by training examiners well, and by regularly checking samples of their work.

Marking schemes ensure that all examiners share the same understanding of what is a correct or high-quality response to each task. They are developed through the collaborative efforts of the full examining team, drawing on their professional experience and academic judgment. Marking schemes can rarely list all of the possible answers to every question.

However, they all state that all valid answers must be given the appropriate marks.

Examiners who are unsure of the validity of a particular answer refer it up the line for advice. This often leads to clarifications being issued to the whole team. In this way, the vast majority of any uncertainty is resolved during the original marking.

Occasionally, an issue can emerge that calls into question some aspect of the original marking that goes beyond the script involved, such as the possibility that an answer offered by other candidates was not treated fairly. When this happens, we revisit all of the potentially affected scripts, even if those candidates did not appeal.

The last time this happened was in 2015, leading to 425 candidates who hadn't appealed receiving upgrades in Home Economics.

Similarly, if the appeals throw up something that causes us to believe that we cannot stand over the work of an examiner, all of that examiner's work is remarked. This can lead to upgrades for candidates who did not appeal.

This demonstrates our commitment to treating all candidates fairly.

We are proud of the multi-layered, robust, and fair Leaving Certificate appeals process, which compares very favourably with best practice internationally.

Aidan Farrell is the Chief Executive Officer of the State Examinations Commission

Irish Independent

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