If there’s no losers, it is hard to find the winners
In the latest incarnation of every child wins a prize, or in this case, no child wins the top prize, NSW and the ACT have joined the rest of the country in bringing to an end the chance for school leavers to get a mark of 100 in their HSC.
While in this case there is a statistical argument for closing the doors of the prestigious 100 club, I can’t help but lament the passing of the chance for some children to be considered, if not perfect, simply better than the rest.
Because without winners, it’s harder to pick the losers, and without losers, we all risk getting tickets on ourselves, and that’s a recipe for mediocrity.
The Universities Admissions Centre, which determines which school leavers get into which tertiary courses, said yesterday swapping NSW and the ACT from the old Universities Admission Index (UAI), to the new Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) would make no difference what-so-ever to students’ chances of getting into the course of their choice.
“The scaling process for students will be the same, the rank order of students will be the same, and the same applicants will be selected for the same uni courses,” UAC’s Kim Paino said in a statement.
“In other states the top rank is 99.95. Achieving an ATAR of 99.95 will be the same as achieving a UAI of 100 – putting a student in the top ranking.”
It was later explained to The Punch that in the history of the HSC no one had ever actually scored a mark of 100 per cent (500 out of a possible 500 in the raw mark).
The 100 ranking usually awarded to five or six bright young things who scored between 480 and 498 was a statistical joke that’s been played on the other 60,000 students who didn’t cut the mustard each year. Cruel – yes, but fair – sure.
Taking it away is like awarding two silver medals instead of one gold. And in a world of footy team trophies for “most punctual at training” (you know who you are), and pass the parcel games with a prize in every layer of newspaper, we’re running out of ways to differentiate who’s got the goods and who doesn’t.
I haven’t been to a seven-year-old’s birthday party for a while, but I’m guessing musical chairs now requires a seat for every participant so no-one misses out. I’m not quite sure how you get around the issue with pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey, but I really hope it doesn’t involve giving the poor beast multiple rumps so no one misses his bum. Maybe these days you just play without the blind-fold.
The NSW Teachers Federation has been vehemently arguing against both A-E grading of students and public league tables ranking schools’ academic performance for years, based on the premise score-cards humiliate those who don’t measure up.
They’d rather your child be marked Excellent, Nearly Excellent, Really Really Good, Really Good, and Yet to Realise their Enormous Potential.
It’s an argument that lets us all down, and is the reason blokes like the one in the above video audition for Australian Idol – no-one has ever told him he can’t sing.
Often the toughest lessons in life are the most valuable, especially if they are served with a bit of a swipe at the old ego.
After years of spelling at the level of, well, Tori Spelling, a wise woman at News Ltd threatened me with the loss of my cadetship if by the end of week one I hadn’t learned the basics.
After 13 years at school and a number at university, she was the first one to put consequences on the table if I didn’t lift my game.
At the time it seemed harsh, but in retrospect it was one of the best intellectual lesson’s I’ve learned (and am still learning, to be honest).
Fortunately both the State and Federal Governments are sceptical of the Teachers’ Federation nonsense and have linked education funding to a more honest system of assessment.
Let’s hope, however, the change in the HSC marking system was more about streamlining the administration than what looks like on first blush, the latest attempt to make those who don’t achieve feel better about themselves.
Even those kids who would have once got a mark of 99 need something to aspire to, and missing out on the 100 club might have been just the ego dent they needed to realise that they, shock, weren’t perfect.
Those who did get 100 – well good luck to them, the rest of us could only marvel. It’s a shame we will no longer be able to.
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