Understanding school results – why ATAR results don’t paint a full picture

The Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) is the number which determines students’ university entrance. The higher the ATAR score, the better the student performed in their final Year 12 examinations. While students use their ATAR to pursue tertiary education, schools are ranked based on the ATAR results of their students as well. Some schools rank highly and some rank lower so it’s useful to explore why. Interestingly, school ATAR rankings don’t necessarily indicate how ‘good’ a school is. Here are four reasons why ATAR results don’t paint a full picture of the quality of a school.

1. It doesn’t actually identify which schools are the ‘best’ or ‘worst’

Unfortunately, school results don’t exactly represent how well a school teaches students or improves their educational outcomes. What the results do indicate is the rate in which students achieved a certain benchmark. School rankings are calculated by adding up the number of course scores of more than 90 out of 100, and then dividing this by the number of courses attempted by students. This single figure representing the school is then ranked against the equivalent rate for every other school.

This is an overly simplified exercise and often leads to the wrong conclusions about a school; slight shifts in the rankings are often interpreted as the school performing better or worse. The annual rankings of schools based on Year 12 results are published by major media outlets every year, powerfully shaping the perspectives of a school.

2. It doesn’t indicate the quality of education

Though school results show the rate in which students achieved a particular mark, what these rankings do not show is how effective a school is at teaching, improving students’ learning, providing pastoral care, caring for students’ wellbeing, encouraging achievement outside the classroom, and setting a young person up to flourish.

Further, the rankings don’t consider the results of schools who offer the International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma Programme, even though they may very well be high achievers in this curriculum.

3. It doesn’t consider the demographics of the wider community

School ATAR results also don’t take into account the different types of students that a school admits. Selective schools, for example, may only accept high-performing students. A top-ranked school doesn’t mean that it’s the ‘best’ school or most effective at teaching – it may simply be a school that accepts only the ‘best’ students. In some cases, going to a high-performing school in a high socio-economic area can even add points to a student’s ATAR score.

4. It offers a disproportionate ranking

Another reason why ATAR results don’t present the full picture is because the rankings table does not consider the type of subjects chosen by students. The school’s score could very well reflect the fact that their students are performing well, but it could also signify that students are choosing easier or fewer subjects in an attempt to increase their chances of getting a score above 90.

ATAR scores are weighted, with some subjects carrying more weight than others. The sciences, mathematics and extension subjects can lead to higher ATAR scores if a student does well in them, whereas ‘softer’, practical subjects do not rate as highly. Unfortunately, it is possible to do exceptionally well in a subject like visual arts, for example, but still end up with a lower ATAR score.

Though ATAR results can certainly provide a good indication of a school’s quality, it’s important to remember that these results don’t paint a full picture. When considering a school for your child, consider other factors that promote a child’s learning, including the quality of staff, extra-curricular opportunities and pastoral care – all things that add value to your child and their future. To learn how Christ Church Grammar School adds value to boys’ education, download our prospectus.

Download CCGS Prospectus