Change ATAR? Be Careful What You Wish For

Australian students think the ATAR is ‘unfair’ but replacing it might not be the solution.
Apr 27, 2023
A student's value reduced to a number might seem unfair, but ATAR scores are still relevant.

It does seem odd to have years of primary and secondary school reduced to a single value in the ATAR and while change is occurring around school leaving assessment, radical change might not prove the best choice.

In a quest to learn more about prospective students and the prospects of their success at uni, tertiary institutions are moving towards reducing reliance on the ATAR.

But Dr Ilana Finefter-Rosenbluh Senior Lecturer in the School of Education Culture & Society, Faculty of Education, Monash University thinks that a softly, softly approach might prove wise.

She believes that, “As the ATAR debate no doubt continues, we might be critical of this ‘blunt’ number but need to be careful if any changes are genuine improvements – for students, schools, universities and employers.”

“Last month, a high-profile group of Victorian educational leaders called for education authorities to replace the ATAR with a “learner profile”. Such an approach would provide information about a student’s interests, values and skills not necessarily captured in the ATAR. This might include things such as communication, caring and creativity.

“Indeed, a common criticism of the ATAR is that it does not tell universities enough about potential students and does not do enough to ensure diversity. Our research suggests students also see it as unfair.

But despite these concerns, Finefter-Rosenbluh believes we need to be careful about what we replace the ATAR with, or whether we should replace it at all.

“Like any other evaluation system, the ATAR has its flaws, which should be acknowledged and discussed. The fact that some students do not see it as fair is a significant issue, but a straight narrative evaluation system in its place may not be the answer.

“This is not to say more personal evaluation components can’t be added. Medical schools, for example, have found interviews to be an effective and important way to evaluate students’ personal and social capacities for the profession,” she says.

Image by Bryce Carithers