By Joe Humphreys, Irish Times:
The State Examinations Commission (SEC) has adjusted its marking scheme for one of the Leaving Cert ordinary-level mathematics papers after concerns were raised by students, parents and even Minister for Education and Skills Jan O’Sullivan.
The first maths paper in the exam last June drew criticism from maths teachers who said the phraseology and complexity of a number questions was out of kilter with norms for the ordinary-level exam.
Noticeable upset and anxiety was caused, although some of the effects were cancelled out by a much easier second paper.
The issue reached the Dáil, with Ms O’Sullivan telling Róisín Shortall TD in reply to a parliamentary question that she had asked the SEC to bring concerns over the paper to the chief examiner for maths.
In response to queries by The Irish Times, ahead of the issuing of Leaving Cert results next week, the SEC said the chief examiner had “taken the concerns of all interested parties” into consideration in the context of preparing for the marking of the ordinary-level examination.
A draft marking scheme was applied to a random sample of scripts to determine “the extent to which an examination and its marking scheme may be too hard or indeed too easy and adjustments, if any, are designed to ensure consistency in the marking of the examination and fairness to all candidates”.
While the SEC said this was “in line with established practice”, The Irish Times understands that a significant adjustment was made to produce a bell curve of results that would have a similar failure rate to previous years.
The commission stressed, however, that it could not make a special allowance for any candidate who was claiming that their overall Leaving Cert performance had been affected by anxiety over the paper.
One of the parents who contacted the SEC was the mother of a teenager with dyslexia who said he “didn’t and couldn’t attempt questions” on the paper because of the unfamiliar terminology and off-syllabus content.
“Many students on the day were in tears, something I witnessed first hand in my son’s case,” she said.
“He came out not wanting to go back on the Monday for Paper 2, in his words, ‘What was the point? I failed that paper and have no chance of getting a C3 in maths for [college] now.’ My son was distraught.”
Her son needs a C3 to qualify for his course under the Disability Access Route to Education scheme.
In response, the chief examiner said that students could be assessed only “on work that they present” during the exam, adding that the SEC was “satisfied that the range of tasks set on the 2015 ordinary-level mathematics examination was fully consistent with the syllabus”.
He said questions six and seven on the paper, relating to “transformations of complex numbers” and quadratic sequences, were not mentioned in the syllabus.
However, he said “the real problem with this paper was the way the questions were asked”.