The Times They Are A Changin’

October 5th, 2008

There has been considerable buzz in the higher ed world the last couple of weeks about the way standardized tests are used in university admissions. Basically, the talk for years has been that the College Board’s “SAT” and ACT Organization’s “ACT” are out of touch with their core purpose of measuring a students readiness for college. The College Board has announced that they are going to change standardized testing as we know it to include Non cognitive measures.

If you are a regular reader of the Admissions Blog, you know that OSU and our Insight Resume have been on the leading edge of measuring non cognitive abilities in university admissions. So much so that many schools have adopted or are moving to adopt our Insight Resume into their admissions process. Now, the College Board is ready to join the movement.

Here’s a little tidbit from the Newsday article about OSU’s Insight Resume success:

Other institutions have begun to fundamentally question the premises of either type of standardized test as a measure of academic ability. Oregon State University and Tufts, for instance, are using new types of assessments that measure “non-cognitive” traits in students, such as leadership skills, drive and motivation that predict college success as well or better than traditional academic tests.

In Oregon State’s case, students are simply asked to write a few sentences each on a handful of questions called the “Insight Resume,” which is incorporated into the college application and scored by teams of readers. The prompts ask students to describe leadership skills and experience, examples of overcoming adversity, experience and accomplishments in a field of knowledge or creativity, and so on.

Since implementing the Insight Resume, the university has found that for every one point increase on an applicant’s Insight Resume score, the odds of that student’s staying in college increases by 10 percent. The enrollment of disadvantaged students has increased under the new admissions system, as has academic performance of the entire campus – the result of a more motivated, more directed study body than what Oregon State got under the old paradigm.

Leave your questions and comments below!

-jm

5 Responses to “The Times They Are A Changin’”

  1. Matt says:

    It is readily apparent that lesser universities are against the SAT primarily because it is an objective measure of the students admitted to a given university. Scores of second rate colleges would love nothing more than to bolster their claims that they annually admit a student body that is equivalently bright to those at the elite universities. The fact is that they don’t. They can’t. Quite simply, they cannot attract the same interest from students with SAT scores that qualify them for the elite universities. How can these lower-tier colleges demonstrate that they are viable options for the top ranking students? They can’t. Instead, they propose the “solutionâ€? of destroying the best objective standard of student merit. Equally insidious, they propose that we replace this objective standard with a fuzzy “holisticâ€? approach to student admissions. It should be apparent to everyone that this argument is inherently biased to benefit lesser institutions by destroying an objective hierarchy that threatens the self-esteem of admissions counselors at good (but not great) universities. I have prepared many students (both from elite private schools and from charter schools in dangerous neighborhoods) and I can tell you that an A+ at the charter school would not earn you a C- at the private schools. This is indisputable. Thus, counselors have proposed another filter: the hardship, whereby students are not judged based on their objective achievements, but on their subjective adversities. The more we shift our focus to “intangiblesâ€? and “holisticâ€? assessment, the more we actively avoid using real, objective, measures of student merit. To disingenuously suggest otherwise is to actively promote the abandonment of our best means of evaluating students in favor of helping college counselors feel better about themselves. Are there problems with the SAT? Perhaps, but the burden of proof rests on those railing against it. What objective standard have they offered to surpass it? Nothing. They have merely declared that “diversity and retention” are more important than student merit. If I had gotten my degree from OSU, I’d be pretty upset to see it pursuing policies that suggest to the world that student merit is secondary to “diversity and retention.” Don’t be fooled by this false debate between the “old, outdated, OBJECTIVE SAT” and the “new, holistic, intangible, non-cognitive measures of the SUBJECTIVE insight resume.” These are two different tools with two different purposes. The SAT is engineered to rank students according to OBJECTIVE criteria. The insight resume is an attempt to pretend that “because objectivity is impossible (or more accurately, because objectivity brings with it some undesirable consequences, i.e. decreased diversity – Hispanics and blacks – and a lower college ranking relative to the schools who can attract students with higher SAT scores) we should not only embrace subjectivity and promote more desirable consequences, but also strive to destroy objectivity and thereby disguise the relatively diminished standing of our school.” The question everyone should be asking themselves is, “Why are second rate schools so eager to do abandon objectivity? And whom do they suppose this pretense will benefit?” I’ll give you a hint: it’s not the students’.

  2. [...] received a comment from “Matt” on our Times They Are A Changin’ post. It is quite long so I’ll post an excerpt here. You can get Matt’s entire comment by [...]

  3. Joy says:

    Wow, you find them everywhere. I hope people aren’t discouraged from responding to this very interesting issue by rants from people with WAY too much time on their hands..

    In general, I think OSU has hit upon a pretty effective and positive tool for selecting the students who actually want to be in college and will make good use of the opportunity.

    I do have one concern, however. What about the truly talented kids (high cognitive scores) who grow up in poverty and have little self-efficacy? If they can’t get into college, where there are programs available at low or no cost to help them conceive of succeeding, I fear that they will fall through the cracks permanently. There is certainly no incentive in the ‘free-market’ employment world for anyone to help turn their self-perceptions around.

    I do see that numbers of disadvantaged attendees are increasing, which is all to the good. Also, according to the numbers quoted above the kids that I’m referring to are obviously not succeeding in college now, with the assistance programs that are available. My question is: should we really be shutting them out, or should we be looking at how the available programs could be changed?

  4. James says:

    Joy,

    Thanks for your comment. You bring up an excellent point. Eventually institutions will have to start putting serious financial aid money into ensuring that first generation, low income students can conceive of getting an education financially. After all, a student getting in is only the beginning.

    OSU has had early success with our Bridge to Success program: http://oregonstate.edu/admissions/blog/2008/09/19/bridge-to-success-program-covering-more-students-than-anticipated/

    It’s a wonderful beginning but there is still much work to be done.

  5. I believe that SAT tests are a great way to measure college readiness/adaptability. It tests the basic level of knowledge you need to succeed in college.

    However, chances are that lower SAT scores wrongly exclude the bright and the brilliant. The “Insight Resume” seems to be a great addition to a rather ‘static’ test. It provides an entire new way of judging potential students, not just by their ability to answer questions, but also in other valuable fields.

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