There is evidence of “unconscious bias” in favour of girls in estimated marks provided by schools for this year’s Leaving Cert students, according to a report by the State Examinations Commission (SEC).
In an official analysis of grades, the SEC said that while female students do better on average than males in exams, the gender gap was wider in school estimates compared to traditional exams.
It added that research suggests “unconscious estimation bias” in similar contexts generally favours female students, according to The Irish Times.
The report said it was not possible for the SEC to correct against gender bias during its standardisation process of schools’ estimated grades this year without “violating” commitments made over how the process would be conducted.
It said the Department of Education made “strong efforts” to address the issue by providing guidance to schools last May on the need to remain objective and avoid preconceptions about each student’s performance.
A gender breakdown of final Leaving Cert results issued on Friday confirmed girls outperformed boys across the vast majority of higher-level subjects. Girls secured a higher proportion of top grades – H1s – in 35 out of 40 higher-level subjects.
This year amid the Covid-19 pandemic, Leaving Cert students could choose school-estimated accredited grades, sitting written exams or a combination of both.
Before the pandemic, female students outperformed males in traditional exam on average by 5.7, 5.9 and 6.5 per cent respectively in 2017, 2018 and 2019, the SEC’s report said.
School estimates resulted in a wider gender gap than this, at 7.9 points in 2020 and 7.7 points in 2021.
A standardisation process, aiming to ensure consistency in results, marginally narrowed the gap in these school estimates to 7.6 points in 2020 and to 7.2 points in 2021.