The Leaving Certificate 2022 results are out. Up and down the country there are people who are delighted with their results, while others are disappointed, and lots of other emotions.
The Leaving Certificate is the terminal examination for secondary education in Ireland, with most students being examined in seven subjects, with their best six grades counting towards their “points”, which in turn determines what university course they might get. Check out this link for learn more about the Leaving Certificate.
The Dept of Education has been saying, for several months, this results this year (2022) will be “in-line on aggregate” with the results from 2021. There has been some concerns about grade inflation in 2021 and the impact it will have on the students in 2022 and future years. At some point the Dept of Education needs to address this grade inflation and look to revert back to the normal profile of grades pre-Covid.
Let’s have a look to see if this is true, and if it is true when we look a little deeper. Do the aggregate results hide grade deflation in some subjects.
For the analysis presented in this blog post, I’ve just looked at results at Higher Level across all subjects, and for the deeper dive I’ll look at some of the most popular subjects.
Firstly let’s have a quick look at the distribution of grades by subject for 2022 and 2021.
Remember the Dept of Education said the 2022 results should be in-line with the results of 2021. This required them to apply some adjustments, after marking the exam scripts, to give an updated profile. The following chart shows this comparison between the two years. On initial inspection we can see it is broadly similar. This is good, right? It kind of is and at a high level things look broadly in-line and maybe we can believe the Dept of Education. Looking a little closer we can see a small decrease in the H2-H4 range, and a slight increase in the H5-H8.
Let’s dive a little deeper. When we look at the grade profile of students in 2021 and 2022, How many subjects increased the number of students at each grade vs How many subjects decreased grades vs How many approximately stated the same. The table below shows the results and only counts a change if it is greater than 1% (to allow for minor variations between years).
This table in very interesting in that more subjects decreased their H1s, with some variation for the H2-H4s, while for the lower range of H5-H7 we can see there has been an increase in grades. If I increased the margin to 3% we get a slightly different results, but only minor changes.
“in-line on aggregate” might be holding true, although it appears a slight increase on the numbers getting the lower grades. This might indicate either more of an adjustment to weaker students and/or a bit of a down shifting of grades from the H2-H4 range. But at the higher end, more subjects reduced than increase. The overall (aggregate) numbers are potentially masking movements in grade profiles.
Let’s now have a look at some of the core subjects of English, Irish and Mathematics.
For English, it looks like they fitted to the curve perfectly! keeping grades in-line between the two years. Mathematics is a little different with a slight increase in grades. But when you look at Irish we can see there was definite grade deflation. For each of these subjects, the chart on the left contains four years of data including 2019 when the last “normal” leaving certificate occurred. With Irish the grade profile has been adjusted (deflated) significantly and is closer to 2019 profile than it is to 2021. There was been lots and lots of discussions nationally about how and when grades will revert to normal profile. The 2022 profile for Irish seems to show this has started to happen in this subject, which raises the question if this is occurring in any other subjects, and is hidden/masked by the “in-line on aggregate” figures.
This blog post would become just too long if I was to present the results profile for each of the 42+ subjects.
Let’s have a look as two of the most common foreign languages, French and Spanish.
Again we can see some grade deflation, although not to be same extent as Irish. For both French and Spanish, we have reduced numbers for the H2-H4 range and a slight increase for H5-H7, and shift to the left in the profile. A slight exception is for those getting a H1 for both subjects. The adjustment in the results profile is more pronounced for French, and could indicate some deflation adjustments.
Next we’ll look at some of the science subjects of Physics, Chemistry and Biology.
These three subjects also indicate some adjusts back towards the pre-Covid profile, with exception of H1 grades. We can see the 2022 profile almost reflect the 2019 profile (excluding H1s) and for Biology appears to be at a half way point between 2019 and 2022 (excluding H1s)
Just one more example of grade deflation, and this with Design, Communication and Graphics (or DCG)
Yes there is obvious grade deflation and almost back to 2019 profile, with the exception of H1s again.
I’ve mentioned some possible grade deflation in various subjects, but there are also subjects where the profile very closely matches the 2021 profile. We have seen above English is one of those. Others include Technology, Art and Computer Science.
I’ve analyzed many more subjects and similar shifting of the profile is evident in those. Has the Dept of Education and State Examinations Commission taken steps to start deflating grades from the highs of 2021? I’d said the answer lies in the data, and the data I’ve looked at shows they have started the deflation process. This might take another couple of years to work out of the system and we will be back to “normal” pre-covid profiles. Which raises another interesting question, Was the grade profile for subjects, pre-covid, fitted to the curve? For the core set of subjects and for many of the more popular subjects, the data seems to indicate this. Maybe the “normal” distribution of marks is down to the “normal” distribution of abilities of the student population each year, or have grades been normalised in some way each year, for years, even decades?
For this analysis I’ve used a variety of tools including Excel, Python and Oracle Analytics.