Monday, February 09, 2009

Beyond the Big Test

This weekend I got my copy of William E. Sedlacek's text with that title, which is also subtitled Noncognitive Assessment in Higher Education. Anyone who's read my blog in the last year will know I've scratched my head over the evident value that admissions processes typically put on ACT/SAT, and to a lesser extend high school grades (see this article, for example). Our work with surveys like the CIRP shows that there are behavioral and attitudinal traits that make good predictors of, for example attrition. These are generally ignored in the admissions process. Or it might be better to say they're not looked for.

Well, silly me. Apparently this subject has a long history in the literature and is a quite well developed concept. Some major schools like North Carolina State University have used these methods successfully. So my research program to find variables for use in predicting academic success can accellerate considerably--we just have to customize the work others have done.

I have not finished the book, but can tell already that it's a wonderful resource. The background and history of noncognitive assessment is given, as well as solid research findings, actual survey instruments, and examples of how to coach staff in looking for these traits in interviews, on existing application materials, essays, etc.

The focus of the book is toward evening the playing field for what the author calls non-traditional students. In his usage, this means anyone who isn't a white male. My purpose is more targeted, but the material is no less useful for it.

The specific noncognitive traits identified, with some help from factor analysis in the process of ascertaining construct validity of surveys, is as follows (pg. 7):
  1. Positive self-concept
  2. Realistic self-appraisal
  3. Successfully handling the system
  4. Preference for long-term goals
  5. Availability of strong support person
  6. Leadership experience
  7. Community involvement
  8. Knowledge acquired in a field
These are described in detail, of course, along with methods of assessing them.

I'll be recommending that our university proceed full speed ahead with this project, to catch what we can of the current cycle. This will undoubtably make Mr. Sedlacek happy, as it will entail buying many more copies of his book for distribution.

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