Teachers and schools across the State are getting ready to grapple with a new concept of assigning predicted grades for this year’s Leaving Cert students.
However, hundreds of schools have quietly been using “big data” over recent years to calculate their students’ likely results.
Athena Analytics, a Kerry-based education technology firm founded in 2017, says its statistical modelling has accurately predicted students' results within a single grade in 96 per cent of cases. It says it is providing the service to about 300 secondary schools.
Emily Brick, the firm's founder, says its predictions are based on students' previous in-house results in fifth- and sixth-year exams, combined with national data on Leaving Cert results trends.
The fact that, nationally, results in each subject fall into a bell curve in line with previous years makes predicting results a challenge suited to predictive analytics.
“We tested this model including all other past results but found that using results any earlier than that, including aptitude tests done on entrance to school, did not improve the accuracy of the predictions,” she said.
Even with subjects where there are no previous results – which is often the case with students studying minority languages like Polish, Russian, Romanian – it is possible to predict results accurately by examining their other subject results. The main limitation, she says, is that a statistical solution will only take into account past results and cannot allow for students whose potential is not reflected in their exam results to date.
“The other limitation, which is of course not a concern, is that a statistical solution will not take into account students who do not meet their potential on the day of the exam, for whatever reason,” she says.
Mock exams and past papers
Schools in Ireland which offer the International Baccalaureate (IB) – an internationally recognised equivalent to the Leaving Cert – also say predicted grades are a long-standing feature of their exam process.
Chis Charleson, director of SEK Dublin International School near Greystones, Co Wicklow, says there is about 60 per cent accuracy in use of predicted grades versus final grades.
“Our teachers use mock exams and past papers to give students a predicted grade in advance of the written exams, which are marked externally,” he says.
“It can flag an error in the marking process if a child is, for example, two grades out from their predicted grade. If that’s the case, there is an automatic check of the grade.”
The cancellation of the written exams for the IB this year means students are being awarded grades based on their completed coursework, which is being marked externally.