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High emotion, much confusion over rankings

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Brittany Ruppert, Lara Pearce

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What's it like to score 99.2?

Jonathon Parker and his parents are relieved after he scored an ATAR of 99.2 which exceeded his school's predicted score.

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CONFUSION, anger and in some cases joy greeted the release of the notoriously complex Australian Tertiary Admission Ranks (ATAR) on Thursday, the scaling system used to calculate whether students gain entry to university courses.

A University Admissions Centre enquiry line received more than 600 phone calls after 50,000 students in NSW received their rankings online, the Director of information services at the UAC, Kim Paino, said.

She is expecting another busy day with upset students when formal notifications start arriving by mail on Friday. ''We release a lot of information but people don't often take it in and hence we receive a number of anguished calls from confused parents and students,'' she said.

Claire Fassoulidis ... very happy with her results.

Claire Fassoulidis ... very happy with her results. Photo: Isabell Petrinic

The strongest emotions were experienced among those disappointed in rankings that did not live up to Higher School Certificate results released a day earlier.

Student Samantha Bulloch from Tyndale Christian School in Blacktown did not understand why her HSC marks - which were in the 70s and 80s - resulted in an ATAR in the 60s.

She admits to being confused with the calculation process. ''My ATAR was not what I was hoping for,'' she said.

Caroline Lazar was among those calling the UAC enquiries line, and also took to Twitter to vent her frustration.

''The ATAR system is not fair for those students who tried the best they could. It does not reflect the marks I would always get!'' she wrote.

Ms Paino, said many students did not understand that their HSC results were a separate measurement to the ATAR.

The HSC marks measure how well students perform against state-based Board of Studies standards, whereas the ATAR ranks students against their peers nationally.

Ms Paino said despite efforts from UAC and the Board of Studies try to clear up some of the myths and confusion around the system, the message was not necessarily getting through.

The scaling system used to determine ATARs is notoriously difficult to understand.

A HSC subject such as Mathematics Extension Two, for example, tends to scale ''higher'', and therefore deliver a higher ATAR ranking, than Industrial Technology.

But Ms Paino said one of the most common myths surrounding the ATAR system is that certain subjects will guarantee a high or low result.

''The benefit of doing a well-scaling course might be offset if you don't do well in it, and vice versa,'' she said.

''It is important when selecting your HSC subjects to choose things which you enjoy and are good at, rather than ones that you think will get you a higher ATAR - there's no magic formula for achieving 99.95.''

Claire Fassoulidis took several subjects which tend to scale lower, such as Food Technology and General Mathematics. But she was thrilled with a very high ATAR yesterday.

''Considering the marks I got yesterday I was feeling optimistic about getting something in the high 80s, but this morning I received 99.25.''

This is more than enough to secure her a place in her preferred course, physiotherapy at the University of Sydney.

Ms Paino added that it was important for disappointed students to remember that the ATAR was not the be-all and end-all when it came to their futures.

''It is not meant to represent the whole 13 years of school, it's simply a tool used by universities,'' she said.

43 comments

  • I don't know how ATAR is calculated, but recently was assured by a number of high school teachers that taking general mathematics will not result in lower scaling. Surely, either teachers or media have wrong info. Either way students who get wrong information will be left very disappointed with their ATAR score as it does not reflect their HSC marks. Unfortunately, this will be more reflected in disadvantaged lower socio-economic area where poor students think they are doing their best but will be left with low ATAR score and limited funds to implement plan B. It seems to me that ATAR is just a new acronym used to replace TER/UAI but nothing else has been changed in years.

    Commenter
    Beexx
    Date and time
    December 21, 2012, 7:33AM
    • Clearly getting 90% (for example) in General Mathematics, is not the same as getting 90% in 4 unit maths. Scaling makes it possible to compare between the two.

      Commenter
      Ben
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      December 21, 2012, 8:15AM
    • @Ben
      I was personally told by two different Math teachers (one oh them being head of maths department)that you can't compare 4 unit math to general maths and that old scaling system was abolished with introducing (replacing UAI) ATAR and that my son would not be disadvantaged or scaled lower by taking general maths course. You go figure what the right info is!

      Commenter
      Beexx
      Date and time
      December 21, 2012, 8:45AM
    • Clearly it is possible to do General Mathematics and still get an ATAR of 99.25 as illustrated by the brilliant result of Claire Fassoulidis mentioned in the article. All of my children have scored an ATAR in the 90s by doing the subjects that they loved and ranking high in those subjects. I have seen many poor ATARs resulting from students choosing inappropriate subjects because they thought it would be scaled higher.

      Commenter
      Mike
      Location
      Central Coast
      Date and time
      December 21, 2012, 9:12AM
    • As you write Bexx you 'don't know how atar is calculated' - but that hasn't stopped you complaining. High school teachers have no idea how atar is calculated either - that's not their job. The atar entry score for any university course is the score at which the lowest ranked candidate from last year gained entry to the course.
      General level HSC courses are for lower ability students - of course they will attract a lower atar score. I'm sorry you are disappointed - but am sure you will find other pathways to career success.

      Commenter
      Fred
      Date and time
      December 21, 2012, 11:14AM
    • Unfortunately, teachers are trained to be teachers and not statisticians. They themselves don’t understand how its calculated. Therefore, their opinion/justifications/explanations on how students are scored, are meaningless and – quite simply, wrong.

      It’s unfair… and it always has been. Standardising results over the state is deceptive and doesn’t work. Until there’s a quantitative way of testing (a multiple choice questionnaire is the only possible way I can think of), this is unlikely to change.

      Commenter
      Zahra
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      December 21, 2012, 11:31AM
    • @ Ben – the problem is you’ll never know who has scored 90 in either subject. The results you see are scaled results, not actual results.

      If every student gets a score of less than 20 % on their 4 unit exam, and their average is 10 %, their results are scaled to reflect a normal distribution. That is, to make an average of 60 %. Therefore, even though all students technically failed, their results will be up scaled to show they passed.

      Then there’s even more scaling based on the subject and the individual school, when calculating the ATAR.

      In the end, it doesn’t matter much though. It’s the first year of Uni that shows who was scored unfairly and who fluked their result.

      Commenter
      Zahra
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      December 21, 2012, 11:47AM
  • for the student at Tynedale, you may find students in other schools in the Blacktown area have their marks scaled down.

    Same test, same mark, different and lower score.

    Commenter
    ccb
    Date and time
    December 21, 2012, 7:35AM
    • Let me tell you Samantha, I felt your pain. Last year, I got between 75 and 86 for all my subjects and was thrilled, but they only gave me an ATAR of about 72. (English, Maths, Biology, Modern & Ancient History were my subjects. My lowest mark was 75 in Modern and 86 in Ancient)

      It's not the end of the world. You may not get your first preferences, but you can still work as hard as you can t university to prove everybody that judged you because of a "low" ATAR wrong. I may now attend UWS, but I have achieved 6 distinctions and 2 high distinctions in my subjects this year.

      ATAR is not a measure of your intelligence, so don't let it put you down!
      You've got to remember that life doesn't stop at high school. Most of us still have a good 60 or so working years to do, so don't think you've wasted your time, you haven't.

      Commenter
      Emma
      Date and time
      December 21, 2012, 7:45AM
      • My daughter's school did a great job of explaining to the students and their parents how the ATAR is calculated, and that many marks would be higher than ATARs as the marks are raw scores (and pupils will generally score above 50) but the ATAR is a rank (1-100) so the spread needs to be made downwards.

        Commenter
        wjcsydney
        Location
        Sydney
        Date and time
        December 21, 2012, 7:46AM

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