Over at Catallaxy, Judy Sloan is having a go at low ATAR university courses.
I just want to have the bridges identified which are designed by civil engineers with cut-off points of 62.
And I also noticed that the cut off score for entry into Primary Education courses is in the 50s – pity the poor children in a few years time.
As Judy hints at, ATAR (or its predecessors: ENTER, UAI, TER) is only moderately predictive of future academic performance, and even then only for higher ATAR students. This overview paper on Victorian university selection practices summarised some of the research:
Their … work at Monash confirmed the correlation between high ENTER and strong university performance (r=0.38 for ENTER over 80). Importantly, however, they found little correlation between ENTER and university performance for low to middle ENTER bands (r=0.04 for ENTER below 80). This finding supports that of Murphy et al. (2001), who found in their study of RMIT students that the strongest correlations between ENTER and university performance were at ENTERs above 80, with no correlation between 40 and 80 and variable correlation below 40.
However completions data published in the base funding review final report suggests that ATAR might be more predictive of completion than grades. Less than half of students who entered university in 2005 on an ATAR between 30 and 59 had completed by 2010, compared to over 80% of the 90+ ATAR students. (This is the best completions data published in Australia, as with the national student number system started in 2005 we can finally track the many students who change universities.)
The issue raised by low ATAR students (whose numbers are growing) is as much about whether their own interests are being served as whether incompetent professionals might come out at the other end. If assessment systems are robust, they can be failed if they don’t meet the standards. And they will be sacked if they are passed but don’t measure up in the workplace.
But the student may have wasted their time, money and effort on study that doesn’t go anywhere. The tiny correlations between ATAR and grades suggest that this screening device should not be used to prevent applicants enrolling. But they should be properly informed of the non-completion risks. And we need a lot more research to see if there are other factors that allow us to better predict who will succeed and who will not.