At the end of November, a series of articles appeared in the SMH, taking different perspectives on the ATAR. This week as schools around NSW evaluate the results of their 2018 cohorts, it is timely to consider a range of perspectives.
The first article that caught my eye was from a young writer who felt despite getting a 99 ATAR – her overall education was not very good. I particularly wanted to challenge this idea as the majority of students who leave Year 12 and get an ATAR of which they are proud– have learnt not only their subject matter but also the value of hard work, an ability to think logically and express these thoughts concisely, clearly and utilise evidence. In the Maths and Sciences- students have learnt to problem solve, to tackle new problems and to work through answers. Whether or not the students liked the content in Modern History surely there were wider learnings – in the way students engage with evidence, debate truth and formulate arguments. Whether or not a student feels they will ever use their foreign language again – surely there was value in learning to learn a language, engaging with a different cultural experience, being disciplined in the learning of vocabulary and gaining confidence in speaking and listening. The skills gained in any HSC programme – stay with us for life.
The second area of debate was about the ATAR itself and whether it is a useful measure. As a society what do we expect our leaving certificate or final school experience to look like? For those of us who have been measured by a final score – it seems the norm. I remember waiting for the post to deliver a letter to home with my result – our mailperson did not arrive each day until the afternoon and all day the landline rang (an era without mobiles) as friends compared results and my anxiety increased. I am not sure with the world of technology and 6am texts/ web delivery that anything much has changed in the focus around the ATAR and the 48- hour news it becomes. Do we want this as a measure of schooling and if we didn’t have a single score should we do something else? The answer is that we probably do want something that tells each student how they went – and to a degree how they compared to others. However, the ATAR, does not tell us about the sort of person each student is or the positive things they have done – it also doesn’t tell us how much the student improved in Year 12 or the human story behind the result. I would hope one day we might move to a portfolio of school achievement that includes a final ATAR-like score but also has space for items such a co-curricular involvement and community service, broadening the view of each student.
This week as our students enjoy the hard work they put in to achieving their HSC subject success and their ATARs, I urge them to reflect on their result and know that there are many pathways to future success – the ATAR is just one of these.