Call to rethink use of Year 12 scores

Katina Curtis
(Australian Associated Press)


It’s not Instagram followers or Facebook likes, but it is a number Australian teenagers spend years obsessing over and trying to push as high as possible.

But increasingly, the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank – or Year 12 score – doesn’t determine the rest of their life in quite the way their families and schools might make out.

And education experts say that disconnect is a problem.

The Mitchell Institute at Victoria University has put out a paper calling for a rethink of the need for ATARs, given the ranking is used less and less for its original purpose of determining who should go to university.

Last year, three in five university offers were made without reference to an ATAR.

Just one in four students who started an undergraduate degree were admitted based on that magic number.

“It was designed to be a common framework that was used across the board and to be used for all Year 12 students, but it’s actually not commonly used,” report author Sarah Pilcher told AAP.

“Some universities are having aptitude tests, some universities are having interviews. Universities are already finding diverse ways to admit students yet the emphasis on the ATAR is still all-encompassing at schools.”

While the ATAR – a national ranking of students – does make it easy for universities to compare prospective entrants and target the highest-achieving school leavers for scholarships, its usefulness seems to be coming to an end.

“When there were very few or far fewer university places, it did perform quite a useful function; it’s just that it’s now gone on to be seen as what success is after 13 years of schooling,” institute director Megan O’Connell told AAP.

The emphasis on getting the highest possible score can lead to perverse outcomes both at high school and university.

“We do hear some terrible situations, like in NSW, of students not choosing maths because they think it will diminish their ATAR and then they might go on and do engineering at university and find they’re starting already behind,” Ms O’Connell said.

“And we do hear, particularly from some of our best and brightest students, they’re quite pressured to go into courses like medicine or law if they get top scores, even though it might not be to their liking.”

She would like to see discussion about a system that instead encourages students to choose subjects based on what they like and what they’re good at – and hopefully induces less stress.

The report suggests other methods could include an opt-in ATAR system rather than the existing opt-out one, universities placing more emphasis on a student’s score in school subjects relevant to their desired degree, or developing other ways of recognising the range of accomplishments students accumulate over all their years of schooling.


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