Why ditching OP scores is a good thing

UNIVERSITIES looking to award coveted spots in high-demand degrees like law or medicine have welcomed the introduction of the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank from 2020, which will make it easier to identify the highest-achieving Queensland students.

Education bosses are also hoping the new ATAR will begin arresting the long-term slide in the number of school leavers who are eligible for a university entrance rank, with 50 per cent of Year 12 students in 2018 obtaining OPs.

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The Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank, which was introduced in 2009 and is used in all other states, ranks students from 99.95 in steps of 0.05 and is considered a more precise mark than the OP, which will be abolished after this year.

The new ATAR system would see more high school leavers getting ATARs, according to P&C’s Queensland president.
The new ATAR system would see more high school leavers getting ATARs, according to P&C’s Queensland president.

In 2018, 733 students were awarded the highest Overall Position - an OP1 - while another 1066 students scored an OP2.

This meant almost 7 per cent of OP eligible students scored in the top two bands, making it challenging for universities to determine who among those almost 2000 teenagers should gain entry into the most competitive courses.

UQ Deputy Vice Chancellor Joanne Wright.
UQ Deputy Vice Chancellor Joanne Wright.

University of Queensland Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Academic) Joanne Wright has welcomed the new Queensland ATAR, declaring it a fairer measure of achievement.

"Finer-grained differentiation in ranking students who would previously have received the same OP will allow universities to more fairly distinguish between students vying for places in highly competitive courses," she said.

A spokeswoman for Queensland University of Technology said QUT was also "strongly in favour" of the move to bring Queensland students in line with other states and issue ATARs.

"This should assist not just for those courses where the entry thresholds are high (OP 1 & 2) but also very popular courses with large numbers of students eligible for offer at other OP bands where it is difficult to achieve the required offer target at the lower or higher OP band," the spokeswoman said.

The out-of-favour OP has been declining in popularity over the last decade, with the proportion of year 12 students gaining OPs falling from 55 per cent to just 45 per cent in 2017.

This has been exacerbated by the fact that Year 12 students could still lodge an application with the Queensland Tertiary Admissions Centre (QTAC) and be considered for acceptance into university courses through the OP-ineligible schedule.

Under the new Queensland Certificate of Education and the rollout of the ATAR, this loophole will be closed.

President of the Queensland P&C Gayle Walters.
President of the Queensland P&C Gayle Walters.

Gayle Walters, the president of P&C's Queensland said she believed the new system would see more high school leavers getting ATARs.

"Because of the way the ATAR is structured and the flexibility it will give, because you only need five subjects, and you can include a VET subject, I think you will start to see an increase in the numbers of kids going for ATAR and I think that's a benefit," she said.

The calculation of the ATAR will now become the responsibility of QTAC, unlike the OP, which had been issued by the Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority.

The change was made after a 2014 review by the Australian Centre for Education Research determined universities, through their admissions centre, should decide the criteria upon which students are selected, not the state's curriculum authority which should focus on student attainment in senior subjects.