- Overall Position
The Overall Position (OP) is a tertiary entrance rank used in the Australian state of Queensland for selection into universities. Like similar systems used throughout the rest of Australia, the OP shows how well a student has performed in their senior secondary studies compared to all other OP-eligible students in Queensland.
The OP is calculated and used similarly to the Australian Tertiary Admission Rank (ATAR) in all other states. Instead of being a percentile rank (0.00 - 99.95), however, the OP is a number from 1 to 25, where 1 is the highest and 25 is the lowest. This range of possible results is bell curved so the percentage of students receiving the very highest and very lowest results is much less common than those receiving mid-range OPs.
Calculating the Overall Position
OPs are calculated by the Queensland Studies Authority (QSA) for all students who satisfactorily complete the Queensland Certificate of Education (QCE) (or equivalent) and who meet certain other criteria for receiving an OP, such as participating in the Queensland Core Skills Test (QCS Test).
The next level of calculation is to ensure that students are being equally assessed in ability in the school across subjects, and from school to school. Two levels of scaling are applied to ensure that each subject the student sits contributes equally to their OP. The first level of scaling - within school scaling - is applied to equalise each subject's achievement level within the school. An Overall Achievement Indicator (OAI) is calculated by working out the average of each student's SAIs for their best five authority subjects, subjects that have been approved and developed by the QSA (a student may study only five authority subjects, or if they study more, their best five are determined by the QSA).
The second stage of scaling - inter-school scaling - adjusts OAI ranks amongst all schools in the state to compensate for the differences between schools. This is an often misinterpreted stage of the OP calculation process. The QCS test is the only absolute common element between schools, so this is used to determine how well schools are equally assessing students. If, for example, you study Graphics and you are the average student of Graphics at your school, and the average QCS test result of graphics students at your school is above the state average, the assumption is that the graphics students at your school are above the average around the state, and your mark is boosted. Likewise, if you are at the top of your subject and the average QCS test result is low, your mark (along with your classmates) may be brought down. This can be avoided if you have a significant gap between you (as the top student) and the majority of your classmates who achieve low on the QCS test. To ensure a standard level of marking throughout the state, all schools send a selection of students from each subject, and multiple from each grading band (A, B, C, etc.), students folios to "Verification" also known as "panel" a conference where other teachers from around the state look over the marking schemes of other schools. Students grades are adjusted if need be depending on the outcome of verification.
When all students in Queensland have been ranked and scaled, they are assigned to one of the 25 OP bands.
As with any system of ranking students whose educational experience has been wildly different, the OP system has provided concerns with criticisms falling into three categories:
Bias Toward Certain Subjects
There is a popular belief that certain subjects (particularly Science- and Maths-based ones) are weighted higher than others (generally vocational, although humanities subjects are occasionally mentioned) in determining a student's result. While vocational subjects are excluded from OP calculations, all authority subjects (specified by the Queensland Studies Authority) are weighed equally. Any combination of authority subjects can lead into receiving an OP 1. Subject weighting is calculated on how students perform in the Queensland Core Skills Test (QCS), hence there is no automatic bias in the system. However, the perception of better weighting for Maths and Science subjects results in more intelligent students studying those subjects in the hope of gaining a better OP. This results in a better QCS test average and thus a better OP for the students studying Maths and Science, which perpetuates the cycle.
The alternative explanation for this, and one that is more likely, is that although there is no bias at all, some subjects are inherently more difficult. Thus only the students who are already high achieving select these subjects. Other students who for instance find the physical sciences and higher levels of mathematics impossibly difficult do not select these subjects, and preferentially select other subjects. The QCS test covers a wide range of skills known as CCEs, and these include writing, interpreting pictures and written passages and poetry. However, because the groups of students who selected the more difficult subjects then do better on QCS, it is the case that they then get better OPs. In some cases, if a student changes a subject for instance because they are finding one subject too difficult, they will find other subjects easier. But to get the same OP doing the easier subject, they will need to achieve a correspondingly higher grade. The group of students in the easier subject is unlikely to do as well on the QCS test as the group of students doing a very difficult and rigourous subject. This does not mean one subject is worth more than another, but that the QCS is doing its job of evening out differences between subjects as it is designed to do.
Although subjects are weighted equally, not all combinations of subjects will cover all the common curricular elements (CCEs, see Queensland Core Skills Test). As the QCS Test is based on these CCEs, students who do not cover all of them in their normal studies can be at a disadvantage to those who do.
The publication of "league tables", ranking schools in terms of OP results, has been a controversial topic. Most of the arguments regarding the bias toward certain schools are used in this debate. As is the case for the drift of intelligent students towards Maths and Science subjects, the higher OP results obtained by certain schools results in scholastically minded students switching schools in the belief they will obtain a better OP. This results in a larger portion of scholastically gifted students at one school and subesquently leads to better OP results, continuing the cycle.
On the other hand any perceived drift of intelligent students into Maths and Science subjects could be seen as other students choosing not to persist with subjects they find difficult. If you look at state wide enrollment figures for the physical sciences and the higher levels of mathematics, then the number doing these subjects across the state is somewhat lower - up to half - than it used to be years ago. This is despite there being more OP eligible students every year. It is more a case of students who could pass maths and science choosing to do subjects they will excel in, because those other subjects are inherently easier.
As for a drift in enrollments from one school to another, this can be a very real effect. It is also the case that some schools do have selective entry policies. They can increase the number of gifted students by offering scholarships. In some cases, they will openly tell students at the end of year 10 that they would be better to find a different school for year 11, at times, turning away students who have studied there since pre-school. It can be a bit of a false sense though, as a good student will do well wherever they are, and a poor student, even at the best school, will do poorly.
The System Itself
While a very specific formula is utilised to determine a student's OP, it is considered an inexact science on the part of all concerned outside of the Board of Senior Secondary Studies itself.
Other than the above categories, the system is argued to have other biases. Since the QCS test scores would affect the final OP scores, schools with higher QCS test scores would attract higher performing students. Thus, the system running over a few years would finally discriminate lower performing schools. In other words, the higher performing schools would perform better, while the lower performing schools would perform worse. A system like this should be avoided because it helps a few schools attract all the top students. The Queensland Studies Authority that sets up the OP system has been criticised by many parents and schools. However, this flaw is inherent in any system that designates a rank wider than just within the school by utilising fair, unbiased, uniform testing. Any school that achieves well will attract top students, allowing it to continue to achieve well. This criticism is therefore directed more towards any state or national ranking system that does not blindly treat all schools as equal, rather than at the OP system itself.
As of early 2011, the system has been integrated into a national school ranking. However, Queensland will become the only state to retain use of the OP rank, rather than the ATAR.
Assignment of SAIs
The SAI assignment allows schools to do their own data manipulation on their students SAI numbers so as to achieve a greater number of OP 1 students for attracting smarter students, better teachers, and extra funding. This comes at the expense of all students who are not in the upper regions of their subjects. The Queensland Studies Authority says
"If the competition is not strong in some subjects, then a student needs to be a long way ahead of the other students to achieve a good OP." 
So if a school can separate their higher achievers further from all the other students in their SAIs the high achievers receive better OPs and everyone else receives worse.
The Queensland Board of Senior Secondary School Studies (QBSSSS) requests that a teacher of a subject places all of their students within a grading band (VHA, HA, SA, LA, VLA) allocates students to one of 10 sub ranks for each grade. i.e. VHA 10 through to VHA1, HA 10 through to HA 1, etc... This gives a total of 50 ranks for a teacher to assign a student in a particular subject. (Multiple students are allowed to be on the same rank). The top student in that subject is given an SAI of 400 and the bottom student an SAI of 200 with students in between given an SAI between 200-400. Because the allocation of students to the sub grade rank is a subjective placement (limited by a review of a sample of students) a school can, within certain mathematically defined limits (known only to QBSSSS and software provided to schools), spread their students SAI results to favor higher achieving students at the expense of all the other students.
If all schools did this equally it would be fair (but useless and ridiculous). As it is not standard practice and there is not a significant enough check in place, other than a sampling review and a mathematical function to check the distribution of students SAIs the practice will continue unevenly.
- Queensland Studies Authority
- Queensland Core Skills Test
- Equivalent National Tertiary Entrance Rank
- University admission
- Tertiary Entrance Rank
- Universities Admission Index
- Queensland Studies Authority on OPs
- Queensland Studies Authority - Questions about OPs
- All about the Senior Certificate
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