Colleges Want Students with Character, But Can’t Measure It

Jul 19, 2014 by

SATs are on their way out, but new tests aren’t quite ready.

Jon Boeckenstedt devours data. As DePaul University’s associate vice president for enrollment management, he studies how the institution’s 16,000 undergraduates are doing, trying to forecast their performance. Many in his position would turn to standardized tests like the SAT (Scholastic Assessment Test) and the ACT (American College Testing). But Boeckenstedt believes the tests carry too much weight in college admissions. “We know there are students for whom the tests don’t represent their true ability,” he says. Today more than 800 four-year colleges and universities in the United States no longer require standardized tests as part of their admissions process—that’s about 20 percent of the total. In 2011, DePaul became the largest private nonprofit among these.

The flaws in standardized testing are well-documented at this point. They punish disadvantaged students and minorities, entrench class lines, and their predictive powers only forecast a student’s progress as far as the first semester of their freshman year.  The University of California, Berkeley1 economist Jesse M. Rothstein has found that the combination of a student’s high school grades and demographic information predicted first-year grades in college about as well as her high school grades and SAT scores do. Based on his experience evaluating undergraduate performance, Boeckenstedt agrees. “It’s double counting,” he says.

As colleges de-emphasize tests scores for applicants, they are turning to research showing that a student’s potential relies on more than cognition. Traits such as optimism, curiosity, resilience, and “grit” may actually play a stronger role in determining a student’s long-term success.

In the face of a growing agreement that these so-called “soft skills” are important is a question that remains stubbornly unanswered: How can they be measured consistently and fairly? Boeckenstedt has often heard admissions officers say, “you can’t measure heart.” The expression rings true. But is it?

via Colleges Want Students with Character, But Can’t Measure It – Issue 12: Feedback – Nautilus.

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