2019 marked the biggest change in Queensland education history. As the Year 11 students of 2019 begin their Senior studies they went where no school student in Queensland has been since 1974. The last public examinations in Queensland were abolished following the 1970 Radford report but for our Seniors of 2020 they are back, Queensland has moved from OP to ATAR, and it is a welcome change.
There will no doubt be teething problems and there are some nuances for schools, students and parents, but all in all it is a very exciting time and a response by the Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority (QCAA) that responds to the needs of our 21st century learners.
OP to ATAR – is it just about changing assessment?
The most important thing to realise is that while much of the focus is on changed assessment methods the most important and fundamental element of the new system is in fact the changing syllabus and nature of learning in schools. Each of the Senior syllabi have been re-written to focus on what are termed 21st century skills. These are a researched set of skills and abilities that have been identified essential for our young people if they are to operate, succeed and lead tomorrow’s society.
While the assessment change is necessary, and getting all the publicity, it is the changed learning and teaching approaches that are actually going to bring most benefit to our schools and students. However, it is true that parents will be impacted by the changes and will in fact need to have a strong understanding of the system of assessment to assist their child in their choices.
What is ATAR?
The ATAR pathway itself will be a new thing for parents and while there are similarities to those external examination systems in other states it is most definitely uniquely Queensland in its approach. Internal school based assessment is still of significant value, but far more keenly moderated than in the current system. As example, all assessment tasks are required to be submitted and endorsed prior to student completion. Currently assessments are moderated across schools post completion, so if inequities exist they cannot be addressed for the cohort who sat them, only the cohort in the following year.
Under the ATAR calculations, the internal-external balance is also a point of difference to other states. In the new Queensland Senior system subject assessment will be 75% internal and 25% external, except for Maths and Science subjects. These will be 50% internal and 50% external.
All subjects will have a maximum of four assessment items across Year 12, which is another wonderful change as many subjects have six or more assessments each year which adds significant stress to students and families.
In addition to the external endorsement of all assessment items there is also a common marking template for each assessment item, across all subjects. They will not vary from school to school and each teacher’s marking will be checked and approved for consistency.
How is ATAR an improvement on OP?
The biggest area of improvement is the removal of the global cohort moderating examinations that are used to provide school to school, and as such, student to student comparison. Currently known as the QCS test this examination is no longer effective in doing its job. While the examination itself is still of the highest integrity the manipulation of school cohorts has seen normalised results skewed.
In simple terms, in 2003 71% of students enrolled in Year 12 sat the QCS test as this course of study was the only way to matriculate into university. In 2017 only 49.6% of Year 12 students sat the examination. Effectively, over the past 25 years, schools have explored other ways of university matriculation for their lower achieving students and subsequently excluded them from the QCS cohort.
Having a system where a student’s own dedicated and committed performance is the fundamental determinant to their progression to higher study is certainly overdue.
What does the new ATAR system mean for parents?
The first thing to understand is that for the most part the change, while it means a great deal to educators, should mean very little for parents. Particularly those who have children in the early and middle years. School success will be determined by your child’s strength and understanding in the areas of literacy and numeracy, combined with their emotional intelligence.
Spending time reading and encouraging letter and word recognition, number concepts and encouraging social interaction and problem solving are always the fundamental building blocks to a child flourishing at school. ATAR will not change this. There are impacts though as children grow through the years and begin to develop hopes and dreams about what their post school life may become.
To this end it is so important for all parents to remember that the ATAR is the Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank. It is not an intelligence measure, nor a success measure. Sadly, over time, the OP has seen its purpose utilised as an inaccurate and irresponsible measure of school success and as such children have become ‘market commodities’. There have been far too many children, and schools, left feeling inadequate and empty because of a disappointing OP score.
The many pathways to further education
There are many different ways in which your child can reach their dream and many of those are non-university pathways. These can be far more beneficial, particularly to experiential learners, than university choices immediately out of school.
The ATAR pathway is only one pathway, and not the pathway for everyone. As your child develops, it is their skills and abilities that are far more likely to lead to their eventual success. In their school life look to encourage and make choices for them that encourage challenge; experiences that incorporate opportunities to fail, reflect and bounce back; activities that encourage curiosity, problem solving and challenges their conventional thinking. In these activities as parents we can articulate and reiterate the importance of striving for accuracy and being persistent in life when things are difficult; focusing on tasks and activities and sticking to them until the end.
In conclusion, the new Senior schooling and method of assessment (OP to ATAR) is designed to better suit the 21st century learner. It is designed to focus on how they think, how they communicate, how they interact with one another and how they operate and manipulate the environment in which they live. It will challenge them to be creative, flexible, focused, determined and articulate. They will be required to know content but moreover apply that content knowledge in real world situations, solving problems.
Our new system of education will most definitely create a wonderful place for our children to grow up and for us to grow old.
Mr Paul Begg, Recent Head of Campus, Southern Cross Secondary. Find out more about the school here.
This article featured in Issue 29 of our printed magazine, published August 2018.