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ACER Chief Executive recommends bypassing ATAR
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ACER Chief Executive recommends bypassing ATAR

Comment 4 minute read

Professor Geoff Masters says there would be no cost to university selection, but significant educational benefits, in dispensing with the Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank (ATAR).

In an article in Teacher, Professor Masters argues that the best predictor of how students perform at university is how they performed at school, and that ATAR adds nothing to the predictive power of students’ Year 12 scaled subject scores. For this reason, the reporting of ATAR could be bypassed.

According to Masters, the construction and reporting of ATAR has a number of negative consequences. For example, it over-prioritises selection into university as the purpose of senior secondary schooling. However, even for students who aspire to university, Professor Masters says a single rank order of applicants is increasingly redundant because of universities’ growing use of other information in their selection processes.

‘The original purpose of ATAR was to provide a single rank order of all ATAR-eligible school leavers, regardless of the university or course to which they were applying,’ Professor Masters writes. ‘However, given the increasing use of supplementary evidence in ranking students for entry to particular courses, and variations in the nature and weighting of that evidence from one institution and course to another, it is not obvious why every school leaver now needs to be placed in a single queue.’

Masters notes that the use of supplementary evidence means that the ranking of applicants to individual university courses can be different from their ranking on ATAR. In New South Wales, students are selected on the basis of a ‘course selection rank’ that includes ATAR but also can include other evidence.

An argument sometimes advanced for retaining ATAR is the role it plays in students’ decisions to change course preferences. But Masters argues, ‘an alternative, and perhaps more transparent, approach would be to tell applicants directly how many places are available in each of the courses to which they have applied, and where they stand in the current ranking of applicants to that course – for example, ‘18 places available and you are currently ranked 16th’.

‘When accompanied by the information already provided to students (their Year 12 subject results and details of any other information used in determining their ranking for a course), this replacement would be at least as transparent as ATAR, with fewer downsides.’ ■

Read the full article:
‘Is ATAR necessary?’ by Geoff Masters, is published in Teacher.

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