Queensland has a unique approach to grading Year 11 and 12 students for entry to university. Called the Overall Position (or OP) system, the current version has been in place since 1992. It is much loved locally because it involves school-based assessment and teacher moderation of student scores rather than the dreaded end of year exams. Under the Queensland system, all students who are eligible - and many are not - are allocated an OP score of between 1 and 25, with an “OP1” an effective prerequisite for entrance into some of the most exclusive tertiary programs.
But despite the advantages of the OP regime, Queensland is now the only state in Australia that does not provide students with an Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR). The time has come for Queensland to join the rest of the country. Here are five reasons why:
1) The ATAR is more precise
The main difference between the OP and the ATAR - the default everywhere else in Australia - is that an OP is a broad band while an ATAR is a fine-grained score. A student can obtain a specific ATAR such as 94.35. In Queensland that could equate to either an OP1 or an OP2, depending upon the overall cohort.
The defined ATAR enables university admissions officers to make a clear and obvious decision about who is above a cut-off score and who is below it.
2) The times are changing
The OP regime suited Queensland when education budgets were growing year after year; when teachers were well funded for professional development; and when relatively small numbers of secondary students ended up going to university. But with Queensland’s public debt now topping $80 billion that cannot be sustained. When money is scarce and tertiary places are hotly contested, a tightly defined system is essential.
3) More people are moving interstate
Two-way movements of school-leavers into and out of Queensland are significant. Interstate migration figures to Victoria have never been higher and net movements of school-leavers to Western Australia and Queensland remain buoyant. If every other state and territory in the nation has adopted an ATAR as a measure of tertiary entrance, it is just not fair to interstate migrants to put a different hurdle in their path.
4) Many university entrants do not have an OP
Many university applicants do not have an OP score in the first place. Some have gone to TAFE, some are mature-age students with no post-secondary education, and some are from other countries, let alone states. For all of these applicants, the initials “OP” are a weird acronym signifying next to nothing.
Every year more and more high school students are being home-schooled; the latest figures suggest that between 10,000 and 30,000 school-aged people in Australia are being schooled at home, usually by relatives. The numbers are increasing all the time, for reasons of preference, religion, or parental choice.
Meanwhile, increasing numbers of Australian teenagers are opting for alternative systems such as the International Baccalaureate, or IB. About [150 schools](http://www.ibo.org/country/AU](http://www.ibo.org/country/AU) in Australia are offering the IB at primary and secondary levels. Many of these alternative-entry students have no OP score and many are seeking university admission, often at a very high level.
All universities, including all Queensland campuses, calculate an equivalent rank for all of these applicants, giving them a fair and equitable chance to access university places and financial support. While IB or home-schooled students can receive a ranked score, they cannot get an OP.
5) OP-eligible students can get ATARs anyway
Perhaps the most important factor pushing the OP regime towards extinction is that Queensland universities have already adopted a de facto ATAR in order to select students. Partly because of the nationwide trend towards comparability and portability, every OP-eligible applicant for a first-year place at a Queensland university in 2014 was allocated an ATAR score, even if they did not realise it.
The irony is that Queensland universities are currently not allowed to reveal those scores directly to students and parents, even if they ask. If applicants go through the Queensland Studies Authority, their scores can be divulged in confidence. The level of secrecy and administration around this is a major cause of frustration for applicants, for institutions and for tertiary admissions centres.
In the end, a national ATAR score for every state and territory is logical, inevitable, inescapable and it is already waiting in the wings. It is time for Queensland to join in.