Wednesday, September 16, 2020

By Ann O’Loughlin

A Leaving Cert student who narrowly missed out on the points to study medicine has mounted a High Court challenge to the Leaving Cert calculated grades system.

This is the first of what may be several High Court challenges against the system used to calculate Leaving Certificate results during Covid 19.

The student was left devastated after she narrowly missed out on a place to study medicine at Trinity College Dublin by two points after three of her calculated grades were reduced.

Her application came before Mr Justice Charles Meenan on Wednesday, who was told that several other potential similar challenges to the calculated grades system are pending.

The court heard that the student studied for her Leaving Certificate at the fee-paying Institute of Education in Dublin.

She studied there so she could obtain the required points to allow her fulfil her dream of studying medicine and becoming a doctor.

She had been doing well in her work, and had scored very highly in the Health Professions Admissions Test (HPAT), which must be done by anyone seeking a place in medicine.

Arising out of the examinations being cancelled due to the Covid19 pandemic her teachers estimated grades gave her 6 H1s and 1 H2 in her chosen subjects.

However in her calculated grades she was downgraded in three subjects, English, Spanish and Maths from H1 to H2s leaving her two points off a place in medicine at TCD.

She claims that the process used by the State to calculate her grades is unfair to those in classes at high performing school which collectively obtain very high marks.

She claims that the marks she was awarded under the standardisation process are not an accurate reflection of what she achieved in the three subjects downgraded.

As a result, she has brought proceedings against the Minister for Education, the Minister for Further and Higher Education, Ireland and the Attorney General. TCD is a notice party to the action.

The student, represented by Micheal O’Higgins SC, with Brendan Hennessy Bl instructed by solicitor Eileen McCabe seeks various orders including an order quashing the decision to downgrade her calculated grades.

She also seeks declarations including that the standardisation model for calculated grades is unfair and contrary to law because it fails to give any appropriate weight to the high performance of her chosen school.

She further seeks declarations that the State acted unlawfully in downgrading her results by way of a crude adjustment of high estimated grades that appear in a cluster, and by failing to have an appropriate process for determining calculated grades for students attending a high performing school.

Counsel said his client was disappointed with the grades she received. He said that the school she attended had estimated that it would get over 70 H1s in Spanish and 120 H1s in Maths.

However following the standardisation process counsel said only half the expected amount of students acheieved H1s in those subjects.

Counsel said while expert evidence concerning the standardisation process was still being obtained, his client was unsure what criteria were actually used by the State to estimate her grades.

Weight seemed to be attached to junior cert results, but it was not clear how much of her final those results counted for counsel added.

The state had “late in the day” had decided that it would not take past historic performances of schools into account when calculating student’s final grades, counsel said.

Counsel said the State did not appear to make corrections to the algorithm or problem-solving process it used, to estimate the grades take into account ‘clusters’ where the majority of students in classes would achieve the highest grades.

This counsel said, was unfair to his client and other students at such schools. Counsel also said that it is his client’s case that there is no meaningful appeal under the calculated grades system.

The judge, who said he was conscious of the tight time frame involved with the proceedings given the close proximity to the new academic years and that students have the opportunity of sitting the Leaving Cert examinations in mid-November.

The Judge also said the expert evidence would be required from both sides, and that these experts may need to be cross-examined.

It was important the judge said that expert evidence be exchanged between the parties as soon as possible.

The judge said that given the complexities involved in the action he was directing that the application for permission to bring the challenge be heard on notice or in the presence of the other sides.

He adjourned the matter to a date next week.

Mr O’Higgins acknowledged the complexities involved with the case. He said he was hopeful that the matter could be heard in early October and that matter could be done in a manner that result in the minimal disruption to all parties concerned.

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