Annually Year 12 students, their parents and schools eagerly await the release of final examination results. As a school principal I am always proud of their achievements: I am proud of the students who achieve academic excellence and attain results at the highest levels; and I am equally proud of the many students who reach their goals or attain results beyond their expectations. The quality of students’ results has a significant bearing on the places in tertiary education offered them.
Each year the NSW Board of Studies identifies ‘Distinguished Achievers’. These are students who achieve a Band 6, that is, a mark of 90 or more out of 100 in a 2 unit course or a mark of 45 or more out of 50 in an Extension course. Then each December a ranking or a “league table” of school performance in Year 12 is published in the press based upon the proportion of students obtaining a Band 6 in the HSC. This ranking is based upon information about the highest performing students only. As a measure of overall school performance even if we consider end-of-school examinations only, it has significant limitations. Most obviously where a school offers more than one matriculation programme this ranking does not give the complete picture even of the highest achieving students in the state as it only draws upon the NSW HSC results and not the results of IB Diploma students.
The publication of the league table of results is of limited value in measuring the success of a school. It measures success only by elite achievement when in fact a good school is concerned with the achievement of all students. The focus on media rankings begs the question how we measure educational success. Surely we should be concerned with how well all of our students have performed. The success of a school should not be measured only by the highest marks attained by the most able students. League tables of school results based on the highest achievers present a simplistic picture of the successes of schools and do not take account of the context of a school or its students.
A readily available measure of student performance in Year 12 is student distribution in ranks for the Australian Tertiary Admission Ranks /UAC rank. This is a more relevant quantitative measure than that used to create the media rankings because it gives an indication of access available to university places. The higher the ATAR, the broader the range of options for tertiary study that are available to a student. This measure reflects the achievements of students regardless of their chosen course of study (ie HSC or IB) and it more fully reflects the academic achievement of students across the subjects that they undertake in their final years at school. Ultimately though, the ranking attained for admission to tertiary study matters only insofar as it qualifies a student for entry to her preferred tertiary course. So a further measure of the success of year 12 students is the extent to which they were offered their highest personal preferences for tertiary courses.
Other quantitative data on student readiness for entering adult life is not easily obtained. For all students we should want that they have developed the skills and personal attributes – as well as the examination results – which together prepare them for further study and work and enable them to contribute thoughtfully and constructively to society. Students should take from their schooling more than their Year 12 results – attributes developed through leadership roles, team- based activities like sport or performing arts, community service and opportunities for values formation and spiritual development.