Tuesday 17 September 2019

Leaving Cert exam marking will move online this summer

Rebecca Carter won a court action over her exams last year. Picture: Damien Eagers
Rebecca Carter won a court action over her exams last year. Picture: Damien Eagers
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

State exam chiefs are planning to introduce online marking for Leaving Cert subjects this year, in a bid to make the process more accurate and faster.

The move to switch from traditional paper-based marking is being accelerated in the wake of the successful High Court action last year by 2018 Leaving Cert candidate Rebecca Carter.

Ms Carter's action centred on the length of time it takes to get the result of an appeal, which in her case would have meant being forced to delay entry to her top CAO course choice, veterinary medicine, for a year. The High Court ruling brought a rapid agreement on a tightening up of the arrangements.

From this year, Leaving Cert results will be released a day earlier and appeals outcomes will be delivered on September 16 rather than October 10.

A State Examinations Commission (SEC) spokesperson said that in order "to develop capacity to cope with future change and challenge, including the revised Leaving Certificate appeals timeframe, it needs to change from a predominately paper based operational model to a technology enabled model". The online system would provide "more efficient service delivery and improved turnaround times, improved quality management and enhanced security".

The SEC started a pilot in online marking in the Junior Cert in 2016, and planned a gradual extension across both Junior and Leaving Certs, up to 2022. Now it intends to roll out online marking to all subjects that can be marked in this way, over the three-year period 2019-2021, including Leaving Cert subjects this year, for the first time.

In online marking, students' scripts are scanned and converted to digital images that examiners access on their home computers.

It is widely used in the UK, including Northern Ireland, and across Europe, and benefits include the automatic totting up of marks, as marks are embedded in the process.

This means marks do not have to be totted up by examiners, transferred manually to marking sheets and then keyed in by clerical operators. Incorrect totting was at the root of the Rebecca Carter action, although there is no evidence to suggest it is a widespread problem.

According to the SEC, online marking also brings greater efficiency for the examiner, as the system allows them to focus exclusively on the marking process and not on administrative tasks.

The SEC had started moves to extend online marking in 2018, but a procurement process it initiated in December 2017 was subsequently collapsed.

One of the bidders took a legal action against the SEC and, according to the SEC, the outstanding issue to be resolved is costs.

In late December 2018 the SEC returned to the market for a script scanning and online marking system for 2019-21, a three-year timeline as opposed to the five-year timeline envisaged in the 2018 tender process.

Irish Independent

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