The way we recognise learning contributes to the problem
How we recognise learning at the end of secondary schooling is important because it determines post school pathways to further learning and work and has a flow on effect into what we teach (curriculum) and what and how we assess young people at school.
The ATAR is the dominant representation of success in schooling. It was designed in an era where only 11% of the population attended higher education, and then most were from higher socio-economic groups.
Today, only 26% of university entrants actually use an ATAR to pursue further learning. It is not utilised in any other post school pathway.
In spite of this narrow utilisation, the ATAR has a disproportionate impact on secondary schooling curriculum and assessment. Our school system is geared to ATAR outcomes even if these are not sufficient indicators of a young person’s potential for recruiters and employers.
THE AUSTRALIAN TERTIARY ADMISSIONS RANK
What does the ATAR have to do with equity?
The most significant predictors of a young person’s ranking through the ATAR system are their socio-economic status, postcode and the school they attend. This ranking system inadvertently reinforces cycles of disadvantage and rewards young people already in positions of advantage.
Australia is the only country in the world that ranks our students at the end of their schooling. In other countries, students are given a score, but they are not placed in rank order.
If we are serious about breaking this cycle of disadvantage, we need to move beyond the ATAR era towards a recognition system designed to match young people with recruiters and employers by best fit, not rank.
‘The ATAR doesn’t attempt to capture a student’s capacity for collaboration and creative problem-solving in team environments. It doesn’t speak to their volunteer work or leadership capacity. It does not account for “jagged profiles”. That is, where a student excels in certain areas but performs poorly in others. There is also a close correlation between lofty ATAR results and high socio-economic family background. Talent can therefore be missed by such a narrow indicator of potential.’
Verity Firth, SMH 2022