Today, about 50,000 VCE students will be receiving their final ATAR ‘score’ (although it’s a ranking, not a score). For more of an explanation, check out the VTAC website.
This is an important result for students, because many Universities use this ranking as an entry requirement for their courses. It is in an important result for schools, because many use their students’ results as evidence of their efforts in developing outstanding students.
It’s also a very emotionally charged day. There is a live blog being run by a major newspaper – just in case you wanted some more! Some students have been hanging on this day for a while – some report not sleeping so well last night out of anticipation. By definition, a ranking system means that some students are going to be towards the bottom of the ladder. That shouldn’t discount their efforts, their aspirations or their capacity.
I’m torn about how I feel about this day. The ranking is a data set that gives valuable feedback to students, schools and families about how their student performed against the rest of the students completing the VCE this year. Data is valuable to improve teaching and learning. Their is also a huge emotional toll, however; which concerns me. The ATAR is perceived (rightly or wrongly) as being a very big deal by students and their families. This pressure is not always handled well and has lead to spikes in mental health issues.
Where is the balance to be found? I think that the VCE is a high-quality and necessary process for students to be a part of. Achievement comes from hard work and our efforts are often compared against those of others. That is the real world. I also think that there is a lot to be said for educating students broadly and in a manner that develops in them the skills that will enable them to be successful life-long learners and productive contributors to our global society. Being successful in one area does not preclude anyone from being successful in another. Likewise, experiencing success in one area, does not mean that you will experience success in every area.
In education, we often speak of a changing landscape that is shifting quickly towards adaptable, agile learners who are innovative and willing to take risks. Working with young people to be their very best will sometimes mean that they get an amazing ATAR – it will also mean that some leave the traditional education path and explore other opportunities.
Neither is better than the other. We live in a rapidly changing world and we will need a diverse range of people to make it a better place.