All A Bit Rank

My son has just completed Year 12 and received his Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR). Because it is such an incomprehensible system it came with an equally incomprehensible pamphlet that failed to adequately explain how it works or the rationale behind it. In my day you sat your exams, received your marks and that was that. Apparently that is not good enough for the twenty-first century. Now you receive a ranking rather than an actual result. If, for example, I get an ATAR of 78, this does not mean I received a mark of 78. That would be too simple. Instead 78 is my ranking against all the other students, meaning I am in the top 22%. The obvious problem with this system is that if this particular year was full of highly intelligent students, while my marks would not change, my ranking would drop. If the year was full of completely stupid students my ranking would rise. In either case my actual score remains the same but my ranking, and how I am perceived by prospective tertiary institutions or employers, changes depending on the results of my cohorts. Does that seem fair?

The other problem is that subjects are scaled. If some arbitrary member of the Victorian Tertiary Admissions Centre (VTAC), who had trouble with maths when they were at school, decides maths is a difficult subject then a student’s ATAR will be adjusted upwards. If, however, they thought physics was a doddle then it will be adjusted downwards. I am not convinced of the premise that some subjects are inherently more difficult than others. Maths was, in fact, my best subject in Year 12, while I was kicked out of art at the end of Year 9. Had I taken both subjects in Year 12 the “difficult” one would have been adjusted upwards while the “easy” one would have been adjusted downwards. Because the government is trying to encourage students to take languages these are massively scaled upwards. One of my son’s friends scored 28 for French. This was adjusted upwards to 40! That must have annoyed all the students who actually scored 40 on their own merits.

This seems to be an incredibly subjective system open to prejudice and abuse. As an employer I would be much more interested in a student’s actual result rather than a ranking against their peers. Apparently it is now also impossible to actually fail Year 12. Our educators are presumably too afraid of lawsuits. Unfortunately all we appear to be doing is creating a culture of mediocrity.

Dr. F. Bunny

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  1. #1 by Joe 'Blondie' Manco on 27/12/2012 - 6:29 pm

    Agreed, although I don’t have kids so I wasn’t aware of the state of things. How long has it been like this? Hopefully it reverts to something resembling the old system soon.

  2. #2 by serendipitousscavenger on 28/12/2012 - 3:04 pm

    I’ve always found the school system to be incredibly frustrating. There doesn’t seem to be a way to grade a student fairly in what counts or even things that don’t count at all. And when I graduated a few years ago, it was only getting worse. And it seems to be a great disservice to kids to take the option of failing out of the equation altogether.

  3. #3 by vetsbeyondreason on 28/12/2012 - 5:55 pm

    Thanks for your comments. The current system was introduced in 2009 and I can’t see it changing any time soon. In 2008 the government introduced the National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN), which consists of a bunch of tests given to students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 that attempt to rank them against their peers. So this methodology is now pretty entrenched throughout the whole school system. At least until another government decides to dismantle it and try something else.

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