Can We Measure Noncognitive Attributes of College Applicants?

testAsk professors what kind of students they want in their classes and you might hear attributes like initiative, persistence and leadership. How well are those attributes measured by admissions tests? Yeah, not so well.

But can we create a way to make non-cognitive assessments that help colleges measure the attributes that we value? An article in The Chronicle is what got me thinking about it.

We know the history. It's actually similar to what we find in trying to measure writing ability. Portfolios, self-evaluations and short essays are a better measure, but very time-consuming to assess. And it is even harder to get people to agree on what is good writing. That's why for admissions purposes  cognitive measurement has been the way.

SATs and other college-entrance tests have been and still are the established measures of knowledge and ability.  Non-cognitive attributes are all the ones that are "not grounded in or directly derived from rational thought" according to David T. Conley and the researchers and psychometricians who study the tests.

There have been articles and research for years telling us that standardized-test scores don't do a very good job at predicting a student's long-term potential to succeed. What about grade-point average? Also not very good at predicting merit or potential.

That's why alternative indicators of student potential have interested colleges. Probably all of us submitted a personal statement and letters of recommendation. Most admissions people believe those are useful, but like all writing assignments, difficult to assess.

The two big players in admissions testing, The College Board and Educational Testing Service, have experimented with ways to measure non-cognitive qualities. Those qualities include artistic and cultural appreciation, integrity, communication skills and teamwork.


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