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The elusive ATAR score is anything but a sure thing...

Posted on 17 June 2018
The elusive ATAR score is anything but a sure thing...
Concern about gaming of maths ATARs has prompted a review by universities and the state government in NSW.

Meanwhile the Australian National University announced a change in admission policy to widen its scope beyond Australian Tertiary Admission Rank.

In New South Wales a joint committee of the NSW Education Standards Authority, the Universities Admission Centre and the Vice Chancellors' Technical Committee on Scaling is investigating whether school students can improve their ATARs by doing lower-level maths.

Education experts say it is impossible to game the ATAR, owing to the algorithm used to rank results.

But an analyst of HSC results for Catholic schools, Dr John DeCourcy, says an anomaly in the way maths results are scaled and the fact a "critical mass of bright students" study general maths, falsely inflates their results.

"There is an entire cohort of students who are good at maths but don't like maths. So general maths gets undue favouring by a large number of students who are doing well in their other subjects. Their good performance in their other courses is mirrored in the unduly inflated result given to general maths."

The review is looking at whether a so-called "common scaling" method between general and higher-level maths could iron out any potential for gaming. Any changes would come into effect at the same time as a new maths syllabus in 2020. Dr DeCourcy said ATARs were "largely ungameable" and the best choice for a student was to do the subject they liked.

He said people had an undue fixation on ATARs. This distorted some students' outcomes from the HSC.

A capable student might get a good ATAR with only general-level maths but get an HSC result that is poorer because they haven't done the sort of mams they need at university.

And an obsession with ATARs took over some students' lives, with the result they didn't develop skills in research, team work, expression and sport.

In Canberra the Australian National University will introduce "ATAR Plus" in an aggressive push to sweep up the strongest students.

The admissions policy will make maths and English prerequisites in addition to getting a minimum ATAR which will be recalibrated each year.

Would-be students will be scored for having built at least three out of seven life skills, including volunteering, leadership, community service and sport all of which would have to be verified.

The university will also directly offer a place to any school student in Australia in the top 3 per cent of HSC results.

Deputy vice-chancellor, academic at ANU, Professor Mamie HughesWarrington, said the university is already full, but it wants to attract the top students. The "Percent Plan" model comes from the US and has never been used in Australia before.

"We believe in an elite education, but we're not elitist," she said. ANU was still committed to ATARs, despite adding new criteria to admissions.

"We like ATARs and you've got to have an ATAR to get past the post But we want to look at the whole person, which is why we've introduced the cocurriculum criteria."

Key points An anomaly in the way maths results are scaled is to be reviewed.

The Australian National University is to use an "ATAR Plus" admission policy.

From: Australian Financial Review, Australia  by Robert Bolton

31 May 2018
Tags: pathways

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