Setting Softer Standards

Eric Hoover reports on college admissions programs that increasingly eschew standardized test scores in favor of evaluating potential students for “soft skills” like curiosity and optimism:

DePaul is implementing their own tests for non-cognitive skills, with a series of essay questions. For the entering class of 2012, about 10 percent of applicants (or about 5 percent of the freshman class) chose not to send ACT or SAT scores. Instead they completed four short-answer questions, designed to measure their leadership skills and their ability to meet long-term goals. Systematically scoring the responses to those questions, DePaul reported that the freshman-to-sophomore retention rate was almost identical for those who submitted standardized test scores (85 percent) and those who did not (84 percent). [DePaul University’s associate vice president for enrollment management Jon] Boeckenstedt is encouraged by these preliminary results.

However, even as schools make progress in quantifying non-cognitive skills, there is also worry about the assessments they are building. Non-cognitive skills are often measured through self-ratings, which means respondents can fake their answers. This is partly why Brandeis University did not add non-cognitive assessments when it dropped its testing requirements recently. “Once you introduce these measurements into your system, you introduce the ability to game those measurements, especially if students know they are being tested for an opportunity,” says Andrew Flagel, senior vice president for students and enrollment at Brandeis. “With most of these questions, it’s awfully hard to frame them in a way where one couldn’t intuit the best answer.”