Learning, Believing, Achieving – Farewell Class of 2018
Date: November 19, 2018 Posted by: Sue Wicks
What a wonderful morning on Friday celebrating our Year 12 students finishing their secondary schooling. The Year 12 students themselves were wonderful, full of love and support for each other, their families and their school community, and full of positivity and hope for the future. It is a sad but exciting time for the school, and a time of genuine change for families of Year 12 graduates. The time tunnel in the morning was followed in the afternoon with a moving Chapel service and our Valedictory Dinner. It really was a terrific evening.
Now the wait until the week before Christmas for OP scores to be released by the QCAA. This is the second last cohort to graduate with an OP, as the system will change to an ATAR for 2020 graduates and onwards. In either case, I’m always a little bemused by the achievements and individual growth of students over 13 years of schooling being represented by a single number. It really doesn’t seem right. I have a daughter who attends university in the USA. They do not have the equivalent of an OP or an ATAR. University entrance in the USA is based on the school GPA, which is an internal school measure (and universities are usually aware of how hard or easy the assessment is at each school), the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), which is an external measure, your involvement in school life apart from academics (clubs, activities, service, leadership, sport, music, awards, etc), and an interview. This provides a lot more depth of knowledge about the person applying for the university place than does a single number (i.e. OP3 or ATAR 93.75).
Data has its uses, and I am a large fan of using data to drive improvement strategies. We do this with our PAT data and our NAPLAN data. However, point in time numbers really don’t tell us much. OPs are a classic example. If you take out the low-achieving third of a group of students from the OP process, the averages all increase. Many schools have been doing this for years, and the current system is at the point where ~50% of those going to university in Queensland have achieved an OP, whilst ~50% haven’t but still receive a tertiary place. Take note of how many OPs received at a school compared to how many SEPs have been awarded when the next league tables are released. At TAS, we encourage all students to sit the OP, but that puts us in a small coalition of highly-regarded Queensland schools with >90% OP students.
The new system has been designed to reduce the “gaming” of the system currently taking place. However, discussions with colleagues in Victorian schools, where the ATAR has been in place for a number of years, indicate that whilst the capacity to “game” the system is reduced, there are still some tactics used (i.e. encourage students to do easier subjects and “average study scores” for the school will be higher than if all students are encouraged to challenge themselves and choose more difficult courses). Of course, this may not lead to higher ATAR, as different subjects are weighted differently.
We all know people who didn’t do particularly well academically at school who have gone on to be highly successful. And vice-versa. A great OP or ATAR really guarantees very little in future life, except entrance into a specific university or course. University is very different to school and whilst we generally see TAS students thrive once they get to tertiary sector, this isn’t always the case. Of course we celebrate when OPs are released and it is very exciting for students when they receive a strong OP result, as will be the case when we move to ATARs.
As my colleague, Paul Browning, at St Paul’s Anglican says: “To be successful at university a student must be self-motivated, resilient, driven, passionate, independent —words that would define a parent’s hopes and dreams for their child as they raise them to take their place in the world”. I would add that a high OP doesn’t necessarily include all those characteristics.
Our Year 12s head off into their futures well equipped with the skills, knowledge and experiences that will stand them in good stead. They are prepared for the uncertain future that awaits them and hopefully will look at setbacks as opportunities rather than hurdles. I thank our parents for their support of the students and the school and our staff for their efforts over the years.