ATAR a sleight of hand in the search for academic excellence


I am glad that ATAR bashing season is over for another year.

Glad because, for all the huffing and puffing about admission standards and retention, we seem to have missed an important point.

ATAR is an illusion, a sleight of hand that directs our attention away from the serious work that we need to do if Australia is to achieve educational excellence at the senior secondary and tertiary level.

The secret of any good trick is that you should create the impression that something has happened when it has not.

The use of ATAR deftly creates the impression that we have a national system of education in which students are ranked against one another on the basis of the same achievements.

There is, however, no ATAR; there are only ATARs.

These ATARs reflect the aspirations, traditions and stalemates in each of our senior secondary constituencies and tertiary admission centres.

In the ACT, Queensland and Tasmania, for instance, you can gain an ATAR of 99.95 without having studied English.

You can get the same rank around the country without having studied mathematics: only "everyday numeracy" is required in some constituencies.

Demonstration of competency or scaling are also supported through a variety of tests: for example, we have the "safety net" tests in Tasmania; the General Achievement Test in Victoria; the ACT Scaling Test; the Queensland Core Skills Test; and the planned Online Literacy and Numeracy Assessment for Western Australia.

Confused? You should be: the educational landscape generates a feather bouquet of tertiary packages that shifts as rapidly as a magician's fingers.

But the rabbit in the collapsing hat is languages.

Even if the Australian Curriculum Assessment and Reporting Authority succeeds in introducing national statements for languages at senior secondary level, that does not mean that students will take them.