New study questions relevance of ATAR - Education Matters Magazine
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New study questions relevance of ATAR

Only one in four students entering university undergraduate courses are doing so based on their Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR), a new study shows.

The paper, Crunching the Number: Exploring the Use and the Usefulness of the Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank, by Mitchell Institute at Victoria University explores how different sectors use the ATAR, and asks if the system is getting in the way of education goals.

Mitchell Institute Director Megan O’Connell said the paper should prompt governments and educators to look at how young people are moving from school to further study and careers, and consider if the ATAR is outdated.

“The question parents, students and teachers should be asking today is, if ATAR doesn’t matter for three-quarters of undergraduate admissions, why is it treated as the most important outcome of 13 years of schooling?” Ms O’Connell said.

“To be successful in future jobs and participate in society, young people need a broad range of knowledge, skills and capabilities that might not all contribute to a high ATAR.

“Schools could play a leading role in growing students’ talents and developing capabilities that are important for lifelong success, but this is often overlooked in favour of teaching content for high ATARs.”

The ATAR is a useful, transparent tool for universities to compare students when deciding entry to high demand undergraduate courses but with more places now available across the board, the ATAR’s usefulness is declining overall.

Changes to the tertiary sector have seen the number of students commencing higher education grow by 46 per cent in less than 10 years since 2007, and more avenues being used to gain entry. However, this shift has not been reflected in schools, where ATAR is often seen as the ultimate goal for students and their families, a marker of school excellence and an indicator of course quality at universities.

These broader uses have implications, such as Year 12 students choosing certain subjects just to boost their ATAR, potentially altering their school experience. ATAR is even influencing career decisions – some students believe university courses with high cut-off scores are higher quality, so choose these over courses better-suited to their passions to avoid ‘wasting’ their ATAR.

Ms O’Connell said policy makers should think about how to support successful transitions from school that prioritise individual strengths, capabilities, interests and career opportunities over ‘spending’ of an ATAR.

“We have great teachers trying ground breaking methods to engage students and give them the tools to reach their very best but they sometimes face resistance if approaches don’t deliver high ATARs.

“It is time to look across our education system, decide what we want it to deliver for young people, for communities and for our future economy, then consider what role, if any, the ATAR should play.”

The paper is available at

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