- The Australian Tertiary Enrance Rank (ATAR – formerly UAI in NSW) is, as its name suggests, a RANK. A rank against other students. This means that everything students have worked for over the HSC year is reduced to little more than a rung on the ladder, where it’s only possible for a few to stand at the top.
- Students who are competing for grades don’t tend to like helping each other learn. The HSC encourages selfishness in learners.
- HSC marks are divided into BANDS. Band 6 (marks of 90-100) is the highest. Everyone wants a Band 6. Or “at least a Band 5!” In his review of the HSC in 1996 Professor Barry McGaw recommended the removal of Band labels, explaining that schools, students and parents were largely ignoring rich assessment feedback relating to actual learning outcomes. Instead they were simply increasing pressure on kids to attain high status Bands. But the NSW BOS ignored McGaw’s recommendation (and the NSW government later introduced mandatory A-E report grading for all primary and secondary students to boot…that’s when the angels really started howling)
- School is supposed to be a place where you receive an education that promotes social, emotional, physical and cognitive growth. Credentialing methods that only report on academic achievement undermine the work that schools and communities to do to help students grow into healthy, happy and resilient human beings.
- There is no way to acknowledge students who are acheiving their personal best. It’s all about who wins…and who loses.
Don’t even get me started on how the whole process is geared toward selecting which students will enter which University course – despite the fact that only 30% of students will actually go to University. Or on the research findings of studies of the effect of stress, anxiety and depression on student motivation and goal orientation. Or on how an exam driven curricula encourages teaching to the test over promotion of engagement and deep knowledge.
I don’t mean to take the buzz away from any Year 12 teacher or student out there today who is enjoying shiny results. If you’re wondering, I’m very pleased with mine. But the conversations I’ve had to listen to today (and every other year when these results bear down on schools) have made me sick to the stomach. HSC and ATAR scoring is my very least favourite part of being a teacher…I hope the utopia I’ve heard about up here in Queensland is everything it’s cracked up to be.