Feedback from parents about both sets of transfer tests administered by both 11+ examination bodies in Northern Ireland has been very positive. The registration processes seemed efficient, the examinations were well administered and the results were delivered on time (or, if they were not, it was not the fault of the examination bodies).
However, a degree of confusion now reigns. Parents are having difficulty determining what results mean what in terms of admission to the grammar schools.
There are a variety of interlocking issues at work. It appears that less kids took both tests than would have taken the Department administered transfer tests. Across the board there is a shortfall of a few thousands kids actually taking transfer tests. Moreover, the fact that there are two testing bodies means that the scoring and grade bands are not directly comparable to the old selection test bands – because the benchmark scores are based on a much lower base of papers.
More confusion is introduced because there is no standardised clearing system being administered by the grammar schools. Moreover some grammars are making the situation even more complicated by implying that they will prioritise applications that place them as the #1 school choice. This may result in application skews to grammars that have had a history of taking more borderline candidates i.e. parents won’t risk applying to schools that have traditionally had very high entrance requirements.
What would make things easier would be a clear statement from the examination bodies as to what the scores mean. It seems likely that AQE scores of high nineties to low hundreds implies a good B1 to low A grade rather than a B2 – as was implied in some media articles prior to the notification of results. However, even such recalibrated scores may be meaningless if the grammars receive too low a volume of eligible applications because too few kids have taken the tests.
The transfer test bodies could help by issuing some clarifying guidelines to parents and to schools at this time. Their work is not yet completed.