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College admissions for the 21st century

December 23, 2010

Yesterday, I started reading College Admissions for the 21st Century, by Robert J Sternberg, a psychologist and psychometrician, and the former Dean of Arts and Sciences at Tufts. While at Tufts, Sternberg helped to lead an effort to transform undergraduate admissions with an initiative, “Project Kaleidoscope,” which seeks to go beyond standardized testing with open-ended questions to measure analytical, practice, creative and wisdom based intelligence. On the dust jacket, Sternberg claims these measures “predict first-year academic success over and above high school GPAs, and predicted first-year extracurricular activities, leadership and citizenship as well.” Naturally, as a former college counselor, I am very intrigued.

After reading just the first chapter on college admissions and testing, I’d like to go back and revise all three of my previous posts on the AP. Sternberg hits standardized tests with a fair share of criticism, but he does it with a judicious amount of temperance and recognition that we need to supplement standardized testing rather than throw it out completely. He points out that current standardized tests have barely changed int he past 100 years, likening them to the early medicine and the telephone, which worked, just not that well. But while the telephone advanced by leaps and bounds through competition, the lack of competition in the testing industry has led to considerable stagnation.

In the book, he sets out to make six main points, quoted below:

  • Tests like the SAT and ACT are not “bad,” but rather,incomplete. They measure memory and analytical skills, which make up only a fraction of the skills important for success for college and life success.
  • The solution to this incompleteness is not to replace these tests, but supplement them or to have tests that measure not only what the traditional tests measure, but also other qualities.
  • Other skills that are important to be measured are creative skills, practical skills, and wisdom-based skills. To succeed in school and in life, one needs creative skills to generate new ideas, analytical skills to ascertain whether they are good ideas, practical skills to execute the ideas and to persuade others of their worth, and wisdom-based skills to ensure that the ideas help attain a common good, not slefish gain.
  • Using tests of these additional skills increased prediction of both academic attainment and meaningful participation in extracurricular and leadership activities in college.
  • Using such tests simultaneously with standardized testing, reduces, potentially substantially, ethnic-group differences in overall test performance.
  • In the end, such enhanced admissions procedures benefit candidates for admission, the colleges to which they apply, and society at large.

This promises to be a quick and fascinating read, and it should deepen my thinking on the college process and standardized testing. I’ve also discovered a couple of pretty excellent blogs that talk extensively about reforming the college process:

  • The Choice: this is the gold standard in reporting on the college process. Jaques Steinberg, author of the Gatekeepers, oversees a fabulous blog that features voices from admissions deans, parents and students in the midst of the college process. I can’t praise it enough if you are interested in keeping up to date with the latest goings ons in college process.
  • Rethinking Admissions: I just discovered this blog in searching for information about Project Kalideoscope. It’s published by Wake Forest, and seems to give a pretty good window into how they are re-examining many of their admissions practices, like going test-optional last year.
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