New online marking scheme to be trialled for exams
A new online marking system is being trialled in the State exams this year.
Instead of papers being marked in the traditional way, students' scripts will be scanned and converted to digital images that examiners will access on their home computers.
The pilot project is confined to Junior Certificate French Higher Level, which will be taken by 26,000 students.
If it proves successful, it is likely to be used on a more widespread basis in the future.
Overall, the trial will involve about 1pc of all exam papers to be submitted over the next two to three weeks.
One of the benefits of a computerised approach is that the marking scheme for a paper is built into the software, which eliminates, or at least minimises, the possibility of an incorrect mark being applied.
Some 120,000 Leaving and Junior Certificate candidates start the exams tomorrow.
This is the biggest number in over a decade, reflecting high birth rates in Ireland since the late 1990s.
Students will be spread across more than 15,000 exam centres, including more than 10,000 centres for students for whom special arrangements are made to help them overcome a disadvantage, such as dyslexia or a visual or hearing impairment.
Demand for special centres has been growing significantly and last year 10,223 were provided for 19,806 students, comprising 14pc of all Leaving and Junior Certificate candidates.
In some cases, for instance where a student is dictating to a scribe, the centre may be for only one candidate and in others there may be more than one.
The State Examinations Commission (SEC) offers a range of accommodations to facilitate students with special needs, including readers and scribes, Braille or enlarged papers and the use of tape recorders and personal computers.
This year, the SEC has moved to improve communications with, and transparency for, candidates and their parents, with online information about how it deals with errors on papers and concerns about difficult questions.
A new section on the examinations.ie website, about setting standards and dealing with errors, explains, among other things, that there may be fluctuations in the difficulty of questions in any exam between one year and the next, and that where that happens the marking scheme is adjusted to ensure fairness.
Variations in question difficulty may arise because it is not possible to pre-test questions in advance because of the risk of security breaches.
In relation to the online marking pilot project, the SEC said there would be no change in the exam itself, and the only difference that students may notice would be a barcode at the bottom of each page to facilitate scanning and traceability
The SEC said online marking was widely used internationally, including in the UK and Northern Ireland, and that research, as well as a trial it conducted in 2014, showed that online marking enhanced standards of marking assurance and control and delivered operational efficiencies.
A team of 90 examiners is being trained in the new marking software.
As well as offering improved quality assurance, online marking will also bring efficiencies, such as eliminating the need for examiners to drive to the SEC headquarters in Athlone to pick up the papers for marking.