Wake Forest University

April 2009

Rethinking Admissions

Continuing the Conversation

Archive for April, 2009

Tufts and the Kaleidoscope Project

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

Using a variety of assessment tools along with standardized test scores offers admissions officers at Tufts a broader method for evaluating applicants. The Tufts Kaleidoscope Project, as it is called, inserted analytical, creative, practical and wisdom-based essays as part of the Tufts-specific admissions application. The questions and activities designed to measure practical, creative and wisdom-based intelligence along with analytical test measurements better predicted student success. Applicants do not have to complete the additional admissions questions, and this in itself, according to Sternberg, is a measure of an applicant’s motivation to attend the university–something that can’t be assessed from an SAT score. Samples of essay prompts can be found in Sternberg’s PowerPoint presentation.

The new assessment questions at Tufts broaden the range of sills tested for educational purposes; increase predictive validity, decrease ethnic-group differences and increase customer satisfaction.

Students liked the additional questions because it gave them a chance to share something about themselves that they would not have otherwise had a chance to share. The additional questions and activities bridged racial and ethnic groups with no significant difference in the results between these groups. Standardized test scores, additional assessment tools, plus high school GPA and personal interviews provide a more complete picture of what an applicant will likely bring to campus and have proven to be good predictors of success.

Additionally, African-American and Hispanic-American applications and acceptances were up. The number of overall applications rose and the applicant pool improved.

Additional assessment options

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

Sternberg’s PowerPoint presentation includes sample questions for how to determine intelligences other than analytical intelligence. Short story tasks, where an applicant chooses two titles out of twelve to write about; oral stories, where an applicant sees a collage of images and then tells a story about them; and cartoons, where an illustration is provided and the applicant writes a caption, were offered as activities to supplement analytical measurements provided by SAT/ACT scores.

Defining intelligence

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

“Intelligence is not an IQ test measurement but rather a person’s ability to set goals in life and determine how to achieve them. A scientist has different methods for achieving a goal than a poet. Intelligent people recognize and capitalize on their strengths and compensate for weaknesses.” said Robert Sternberg, dean at Tufts University. He added that standardized tests focus on measuring analytical abilities only and supplemental methods are needed to assess creative, practical and wisdom-based abilities.

The Conversation Continues with Tufts’ Robert Sternberg

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

Robert J. Sternberg

Rethinking Admissions conference may have officially ended on Thursday, April 16th, but the conversation about college admissions is far from over. Tomorrow, April 21, Wake Forest will host Robert J. Sternberg, Dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at Tufts University. Dr. Sternberg is a professor of psychology and adjunct professor of education and is considered the “godfather of testing,” with more than 30 years in the field.

The central focus of his research is intelligence, creativity, wisdom, and leadership. He’ll be talking about how Tufts came up with an admissions process that takes into consideration not only academic credentials, but creativity and problem-solving skills as well. The lecture is free and open to the public at 11 a.m. in Pugh Auditorium at Benson University Center. If you can’t make it, be sure to check out this blog for updates.

Media Blogs on Rethinking Admissions

Monday, April 20th, 2009

The New York Times and Chronicle of Higher Education have been doing a great job blogging about the Rethinking Admissions conference. The Times’ education writer Jacques Steinberg wrote about the conference on his new blog called “The Choice,” which examines all facets of the college admissions process. Steinberg is also the author of a book on the topic, “The Gatekeepers: Inside the Admissions Process of a Premier College.” The Wake Forest conference is also popping up on the Chronicle’s News Blog, and generating plenty of comments from readers. Be sure to check out both blogs.

A final thought

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

Wake Forest director of admissions Martha Allman was pleased with the conference. “The quality of research presented and the variety of viewpoints made this an important event in furthering the conversation on college admissions. I hope what will happen now is a closer examination of what each of us does at our institutions, and that that will lead to a fairer process.”

Agreement on several fronts

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

At the end of the sessions on college rankings, Jeffrey Brenzel of Yale said that he, Robert Morse of U.S. News, and Richard Vedder of Ohio University, agreed on three points: that families need information and ways to compare colleges; that there are limits to a numerical ranking system; and that colleges have failed to provide enough comparable data to prospective students. He said that he also agreed with Vedder on a “do-it-yourself” rankings model where students could compare colleges based on the variables most important to them. Morse said that U.S. News is actually working on a do-it-yourself system.

Couldn’t Yale take the lead in opting out of rankings?

Thursday, April 16th, 2009


In response to this question, Jeffrey Brenzel, the admissions director at Yale, explained that there has been a movement to boycott the reputation survey portion of the U.S. News and World Report rankings, and many schools, including Yale, refuse to fill out this portion of the survey. Schools can’t back out of the rankings totally, he said. “You will appear in the rankings whether you supply the information or not. Would Yale be in the position to back out of the rankings? Think broadly about the feasibility of this. The greatest incentive would be a viable alternative to the U.S. News rankings, and colleges should collaborate on this alternative.”

The question is, what kind of entity is capable of gathering data and providing a tool for comparison of colleges and universities. The need for families to have information is critical, and all three panelists agree on this point.

Fighting a losing battle

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

Richard Vedder

Richard Vedder, a professor of economics at Ohio University, is developing a new ranking system for Forbes magazine. The Forbes ranking focuses more on student preferences and outcome measurements than U.S. News, he said.

He gave an impassioned defense of rankings: Colleges are in a losing battle fighting against rankings. “It’s anti-American to be anti-ranking,” he said. He admitted shortcomings with the rankings, but placed much of the blame on the colleges themselves for refusing to provide enough information. “Many college leaders are afraid that their school will be exposed,” he said.

He favors a “do-it-yourself” system where students can decide what is most important to them and then have access to that data and compare it to what other colleges offer.

College rankings are here to stay

Thursday, April 16th, 2009

Robert MorseRobert Morse, director of data research from U.S. News & World Report, said colleges have made the U.S. News ranking the power that it is. U.S. News doesn’t market it’s ratings or push its product, he said. The colleges are using our rankings as validation, and this has snowballed over time. The effect of the rankings has compounded as the free information is accessed through the Internet.

U.S. News sees their work as a consumer-oriented mission. “We want to help students make choices in the face of rising tuition, room and board bills. We believe we are transparent on how we do the rankings, and we publish this information on our Web site. Over the last 25 years, U.S. News has become a trusted source for these rankings, and the public does turn to us,” Morse said.

Morse acknowledged that there have been questionable outcomes as a result of the rankings. These include the following (1) rankings have created a competitive environment in higher ed that didn’t exist before (2) U.S. News is the annual public benchmark for academic performance, which was not the magazine’s original intention (3) Moving up in U.S. News & World Report rankings has become a very public goal of some colleges, and this may mean policy choices are being made for the purpose of the rankings.

“It’s true that there have been some unintended consequences of rankings, but it can be argued that rankings’ time has come. Rankings are in the forefront of higher education discussions in the U.S. and around the world. Rankings are here to stay though the controversy will continue,” Morse said.