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Search for an alternative to the ATAR

Posted on 27 October 2018
Search for an alternative to the ATAR
THE Australian Tertiary Admission Rank, which students receive at the end of year 12, is increasingly being questioned for the simple reason that it is associated with a narrow measure of a student's ability and intelligence.

Most schools champion that they exist to educate and develop a person holistically: academically, emotionally, socially and physically. Yet after 13 years of schooling, student achievement is defined by a single number, a ranking, which is determined as a result of how they have performed in a number of assessment pieces: SACs, SATs and exams.

The technology revolution's impact on the workforce is demanding that more emphasis be placed on the development of key skills and qualities of character.

Skills such as critical and creative thinking, the ability to think big and solve problems, and traits such as adaptability, empathy, persistence and resilience are seen as increasingly essential to the future workforce. And many parents and teachers agree.

Kilvington Grammar commissioned an independent survey of 1000 parents and teachers in which the overwhelming majority placed a much higher value on key "life skills" than they did their child's ATAR score. Most agreed these skills should be taught explicitly by schools in conjunction with core academic skills. Of those surveyed, 85 per cent agreed that focusing on test scores, like NAPLAN and the ATAR, does not take into account all aspects of a child's development and capabilities. I admit to being surprised that academic achievement and a high ATAR were considered to be of least importance in preparing children for the future job market.

Moreover, our world is crying out for leaders who model values such as honesty and integrity, who embrace diversity and inclusion, people who think beyond the day's crises and focus on the longer term.

We need leaders who grasp the impact of their decisions and take seriously their responsibility that goes beyond the immediate result of a decision, leaders who serve the greater good, not themselves.

The dilemma for schools is that core skills, such as reading, writing

and mathematics, are specific, teachable abilities that can be defined and measured, but life skills such as adaptability, problem solving, creativity, collaboration and communication are less tangible and measurable. But that should not mean they take second place or be seen as less important.

On the contrary, these skills are more vital than ever today children should be learning them from a young age, and we need to find a way to measure them.

Kilvington Grammar launched The Character Initiative in 2016 to introduce students as young as four to key traits and skills they would need to thrive. Each semester, a new trait is actively incorporated into the school curriculum, many of which are qualities expected by employers of the 21st century. By embedding traits such as resilience, adaptability and courage into the school culture and curriculum, we are reinforcing the importance of these characteristics not only in terms of students' relationships at school and at home, but also in managing challenges and their general approach to life.

And yes, there is little or no measure of progress for these qualities. Surely, in a holistic education system, we need a broader assessment of student ability and intelligence.

The ATAR does have its place.

It efficiently assesses a level of student academic progress and outcomes and it determines which candidates are most likely to cope with demanding university courses such as law, medicine and veterinary science. I doubt anyone would be prepared to go under the knife unless they were confident their surgeon had the required knowledge and skills to operate.

The ATAR does provide a needed measure of ability and intelligence, but it is too narrow and inadequate.

We must think beyond university and how students are going to cope with life and work today - which is very different from 20, 30 and 50 years ago. We need to develop a system to support and measure the development of character and key skills in young people and schools need to teach to that.

As we rush into exam season, imagine having another measure, one that trumps or sits alongside the ATAR, one which measures a student as a whole and takes into account a broader range of competencies - which appraises their academic skills, character traits, leadership qualities and values. Students and our education system would be the better for it.

By JON CHARLTON current  Principal of Kilvington Grammar, an Independent Baptist Coeducational school in Ormond, Victoria

From 17 Oct 2018 Herald Sun, Melbourne


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