Controversies in College Admissions Symposium: Speakers

Wayne Camara

Wayne Camara ACT

Admissions Testing Impact on Access and Alternative Options

Admissions tests provide an objective and standardized measure, often described as “a common yardstick”, for comparing applicants from diverse backgrounds who differ in terms of schools attended, courses completed, and grades attained. Some critics would argue that the availability of test scores is fundamentally unfair because they allow for simplistic comparison of students and schools without consideration of educational and socioeconomic context. This presentation will focus on the impact of admissions tests on access and diversity, and review the feasibility of alternative proposals to use class rank, test optional policies, or criterion-referenced assessments as substitutes.

Wayne J. Camara is the Horace Mann Research Chair at ACT. He previously served as Vice President for Research & Development at the College Board, where he is responsible for managing research and assessment development, including policy research, for the SAT, the Advanced Placement Program and other assessments. Camara was also Assistant Executive Director of Science for the APA. While there, he directed governance and scientific involvement in policy and federal advocacy initiatives in behavioral science research. Camera directed the revision of the Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing, and in 2006, was appointed as Chair of the AERA/APA/NCME management committee overseeing the Standards and subsequent revisions. Camara's principal areas of research are standards and professional practice in testing, as well as legal and regulatory issues relating to assessment, test validity and public-policy issues concerning assessment. He also has served as an expert witness in testing cases.

Matthew Gaertner

Matthew GaertnerWested

Considering Class: Colorado’s Affirmative Action Experiment

In 2008, Colorado and Nebraska voted on amendments that sought to end race-based affirmative action. In anticipation of the vote, the University of Colorado Boulder (CU) explored statistical approaches to support class-based (i.e., socioeconomic) affirmative action. This presentation introduces CU’s method of identifying socioeconomically disadvantaged and overachieving applicants. Two experiments were carried out to determine whether implementing this approach would change the racial and socioeconomic diversity of accepted classes. The experiments suggest class-based affirmative action can potentially increase acceptance rates for low-SES and minority applicants – particularly if it is used alongside race-conscious admissions. Moreover, historical student records were examined to explore the likelihood of college success for the beneficiaries of CU’s class-based approach. Historical data do not rule out the possibility of college success for the beneficiaries of class-conscious admissions, but they do argue for the provision of robust academic support to economically disadvantaged students when they matriculate.

Matthew Gaertner is Director of Research in WestEd’s Standards, Assessment, and Accountability Services (SAAS) program in San Francisco, California, where he provides overall leadership for SAAS research and development efforts. He provides expertise and technical assistance in key areas, including statistical methods, psychometrics, standard setting, alignment studies, and experimental design. Gaertner’s research focuses on college and career readiness, and the effects of educational policies on access, persistence, achievement, and labor market outcomes for disadvantaged learners. A psychometrician by training, Gaertner’s methodological expertise includes Item Response Theory, multilevel models, and categorical data analysis. He has authored an edited book on college and career readiness through the National Council on Measurement in Education (Preparing Students for College and Careers: Theory, Measurement, and Educational Practice). Gaertner has extensive experience working with practitioners to apply statistical and psychometric methods to address pressing, practical concerns. Prior to joining WestEd, Gaertner held research positions at SRI International, Pearson, and American Institutes for Research.

Kurt Geisinger

Kurt GeisingerBuros Center for Testing, University of Nebraska-Lincoln

Let’s Begin All Over: What Should Colleges and Universities Seek in a Student Body?

If higher education institutions had the opportunity to re-evaluate and re-design student body and admissions goals policies, where should they start?

One of the more recent and controversial measures used in making admissions decisions are standardized tests, including the ACT and SAT. They have been used as part of the system to select students and have been validated by predicting grades in college. While high grades in college may be considered excellence, most college administrators would rather have tests that predict which students will graduate college, but would require a different type of test and admissions system.

Colleges and Universities could consider increasing the diversity of their student body from their states. Companies are also looking to colleges to provide them a more diverse workforce. CEOs value a graduate’s ability to work with diverse students and serve as a hiring advantage.

Students learn from their textbooks and their professors, but they also learn from their peers, both for their vocational success and their success as citizens. International students are important to providing a more well-rounded student experience. Resident students, whose life experiences might be limited, can learn from international students’ life experiences. Last, an oft forgotten source of diversity are students with disabilities. These students have particular needs, many of the needs in testing, the admissions process, and in the school itself.

Finally, the use of financial aid can optimize the overall goals of the admission policies.

Dr. Kurt F. Geisinger is currently Director of the Buros Center on Testing and W. C. Meierhenry Distinguished University Professor at the University of Nebraska. He has previously been Professor and Chair of the Department of Psychology at Fordham University, Professor of Psychology and Dean of Arts and Sciences at SUNY-Oswego, Professor of Psychology and Academic Vice President at LeMoyne College and Professor of Psychology and Vice President for Academic Affairs at the University of St. Thomas. He has served the maximum two terms as council representative for the Division of Measurement, Evaluation and Statistics in the American Psychological Association, which he also represents on the ISO’s International Test Standards committee. Dr. Geisinger serves as president of Division 5: Quantitative and Qualitative Methods of the American Psychological Association (APA), president of Division 2: Psychological Assessment and Evaluation of International Association of Psychology (IAAP), and president of the International Test Commission (ITC). He is editor of Applied Measurement in Education, and has co-edited the Psychological Testing of Hispanics and Test Interpretation and Diversity. His primary interests lie in validity theory, admissions testing, proper test use, test use with individuals with disabilities, the testing of language minorities and the translation or adaptation of tests from one language and culture to another.

Janet Helms

Janet HelmsInstitute for the Study & Promotion of Race and Culture, Boston College

Implications of Racial-Group Test Score Gap for College Admissions

Many college admissions committees are faced with a dilemma. On one hand, they would like to diversify their student bodies with respect to socioracial groups and racialized ethnic groups of Color. On the other hand, with respect to Black students in particular, there exists a long history of Black students obtaining lower scores on tests of cognitive abilities and skills relative to White students. The so-called test-score gap is obtained by subtracting the mean scores of Black students (usually the lower score) from the mean scores of White students (usually the higher score). The resulting differences or gaps are generally interpreted as evidence of the cognitive/intellectual impairment of the Black test takers, although various rationales have been offered for the disparities including environmental factors (e.g., social class differences) or racial-cultural bias in the test content. Consequently, universities historically have been legally challenged for admitting Black students with lower test scores than some White student(s) with a higher test score(s). Yet missing from analyses of the gaps is any focus on the effects of disparate sample sizes on the gaps’ magnitudes and on the standard deviations used to estimate the meaningfulness of the disparity between racial group’ test-score means. In this presentation, I illustrate (a) the methodology for determining each racial group’s contribution to performance gaps on tests, such as the SAT and (b) the effects of disparate sample sizes on standard deviations. Stability in the magnitude of the gap overtime may be attributable to the relative stability of disparities in sample sizes. Admissions committees should consider (a) challenging the legal restrictions that prohibit use of separate racial group norms for selection purposes and/or (b) foster the development of assessment procedures that do not rely on parametric statistics.

Janet E. Helms is the Augustus Long Professor in the Department of Counseling, Developmental, and Educational Psychology and Director of the Institute for the Study and Promotion of Race and Culture at Boston College. She is past president of the Society of Counseling Psychology (Division 17 of the American Psychological Association [APA]). Dr. Helms is a Fellow in Division 17 (Counseling Psychology), Division 45 (Ethnic Diversity), and Division 35 (Psychology of Women) of the APA. In addition, she is a member of the American Psychological Society and the American Educational Research Association. Dr. Helms has served on the Commission for the Recognition of Specialties and Subspecialties, the Joint Committee on Testing Practices, and the APA Committee on Psychological Tests and Assessment, and she provided expert testimony to the Supreme Court in the case of Ricci v Destefano. Her service on editorial boards includes the Psychological Assessment Journal and the Journal of Counseling Psychology. She has written over seventy empirical and theoretical articles and books on the topics of racial identity and cultural influences on assessment and counseling practice. Dr. Helms was the recipient of the 2017-2018 Lifetime Achievement in Mentoring Award from the Society of Counseling Psychology (Division 17, of the American Psychological Association), the 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award from APA’s Society for the Psychological Study of Culture, Ethnicity, and Race, and the APA/APF Gold Medal Award for Life Achievement in the Public Interest, and she delivered the American Psychological Foundation’s 2019 Arthur W. Staats Lecture on Unifying Psychology.

Don Hossler

Don HosslerUniversity of Southern California

The Interconnectedness of Issues Confronting Four Year Colleges in the Area of Admissions, Transparency, and Equity: Ethical Considerations

Our decentralized system of admissions is broken. Critiques of the way we determine academic merit are intensifying. Yet many institutions award financial aid based on our concepts of merit. More institutions are adopting test optional and holistic review admissions policies. However, we are not discussing how these changes will influence transparency in our decentralized admissions system. Yet transparency is what low- and moderate-income families need.

Additionally, dramatic changes are afoot in the number and composition of traditional age high school graduates. An increasing number of students are price- and debt-averse. Against this backdrop, tuition discounting schemes—that influence tuition costs—are difficult to discuss and reverse because fears of federal lawsuits. Finally, the Varsity Blues scandal demonstrates how money can buy admission to elite institutions. The scandal has also drawn renewed attention to inequities in legacy and early decision admissions schemes.

We need a national dialogue. We need a discuss a more ethical and transparent, loosely coupled, decentralized—and yet—national system of college admissions. We need to Begin All Over.

Don Hossler is a Senior Scholar at the Center for Enrollment Research, Policy, and Practice in the Rossier School of Education, at the University of Southern California. Hossler holds the rank of Distinguished Provost Professor Emeritus in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies. He has also served as vice chancellor for student enrollment services, executive associate dean of the School of Education. In addition, he is the founding executive director of the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center. Hossler’s areas of specialization include college choice, student persistence, student financial aid policy, and enrollment management. He has authored or co-authored 23 books and scholarly reports, more than 100 articles and book chapters, and about 200 paper presentations and invited lectures. He has consulted with more than 50 colleges, universities, and educational organizations. He has lived in Russia and has conducted research in postsecondary education there and also in China. Hossler has received career achievement awards for his research, scholarship, and service from the American College Personnel Association, the Association for Institutional Research, the College Board, and the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators. In 2015 he was named a Provost Professor and received the Sonneborn Award for Outstanding Research and Teaching from Indiana University Bloomington. This is the highest award the Bloomington campus awards to its faculty members for a distinguished career of research and teaching.

Jessica Howell

Jessica HowellThe College Board

Context Matters: The Importance of Environmental Information in College Admissions

In 1983, the National Commission on Excellence in Education published A Nation at Risk, a landmark study that laid out the shortcomings of a K-12 educational system that was failing American youth. In the more than 35 years since, income segregation across U.S. school districts has accelerated (Owens, Reardon & Jencks, 2016), and national testing metrics – including NAEP, SAT, and ACT – continue to reflect educational inequities that fall along sociodemographic lines. Research reveals that the educational fate of students living with environmental challenge is not sealed at birth, as those fortunate enough to move to more resourced neighborhoods have improved educational and life outcomes (Chetty, Hendren & Katz, 2016). We synthesize the literature on neighborhood and high school context to demonstrate how existing data sources support the creation of normative contextual metrics that supplement college applications. We illustrate how these evidence-based measures of environmental context relate to student attributes and postsecondary outcomes.

Jessica Howell is the Vice President of Research at the College Board, where she leads a team of roughly 30 researchers who conduct rigorous quantitative research on a wide variety of topics related to academic preparation, college access, affordability, admissions, and postsecondary and labor market outcomes. Prior to joining the College Board in 2011, Howell was an associate professor of Economics at California State University, Sacramento. Engaged in quantitative research on pressing education issues, she is primarily focused on access and success throughout the educational pipeline for different socioeconomic and racial/ethnic groups. Howell received her undergraduate degree in economics from James Madison University; her master's and doctoral degrees in Economics are from the University of Virginia.

Krista Mattern

Krista MatternACT

Improving the Validity and Diversity of a College Admissions Selection System: The Utility of Social and Emotional Learning Measures

Admission officers are often confronted with competing goals: admitting the most qualified students while maximizing the diversity of an admitted class. Unfortunately, the top factors considered in the admissions process–grades and test scores–exhibit large subgroup differences. In response, many colleges and universities have expressed a desire to consider other factors, which capture students’ persistence and accomplishments in the context of their environment and past experiences. This session will focus on the utility of social and emotional learning measures, which add to the prediction of college success while exhibiting small-to-no subgroup differences, as a solution to this problem.

Krista Mattern is a Senior Director in Research at ACT. Her research focuses on predicting education and workplace success through evaluating the validity and fairness of cognitive and non-cognitive measures. Also known for work in evaluating the efficacy of learning products to help improve intended learner outcomes. She has over 100 publications including journal articles, technical reports, and books chapters and has served as the editor of two books. Her work has been published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, Journal of Educational Measurement, Educational Measurement: Issues and Practice, Educational and Psychological Measurement, and the Journal of College Student Development. Mattern received her Ph.D. in Industrial and Organizational Psychology with a minor in Quantitative Psychology from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

Neal Schmitt

Neal SchmittMichigan State University

College Admissions: Are there Feasible Alternatives/Complements to SAT and ACT Test Scores?

Most college admission decisions are based on past academic achievement and verbal and math ability on the assumption that these abilities will predict subsequent college academic grades and achievement. These measures do predict classroom achievement very well and they are psychometrically fair. However, our work with situational judgment and biodata measures indicates that these indices are valid, display smaller subgroup differences, and are perceived to be fair by various stakeholders. However, major universities have been reluctant to use these indices and I speculate on some reasons for this reluctance and suggest there might be other ways provided by technology advances to assess student potential.

Dr. Neal Schmitt is University Distinguished Professor and Dean of Social Sciences Emeritus at Michigan State University. Professor Schmitt’s recent research has been in personnel and selection and academic admissions. He has been developing procedures to assess college students’ ability and motivation in noncognitive domains that might predict their success in college. In these and other selection-related projects he is interested in the construct and predictive validity of our measures and the impact they have on the people who take the measures as well as the institutions that may use them in their decision making.

Rebecca Zwick

Rebecca ZwickEducational Testing Service

Using Quantitative Techniques to Promote Diversity in Admissions

My recent research has involved the use of constrained optimization, an operations research technique, to increase the diversity of admitted classes. Constrained optimization allows the incorporation of both academic requirements and diversity goals. The incoming class’s academic performance (say, the average GPA or test score) is maximized while class composition requirements are imposed. For example, in one college admissions study, we required that a composite of high school GPA and admissions test score be maximized, provided that a quarter of the admitted class be from a low-income neighborhood. We also applied this method to historical data on applicants to graduate programs, maximizing a composite of GRE scores and undergraduate GPA, while requiring certain percentages of admitted students be from under-represented groups. We have been successful in “admitting” diverse classes that perform well academically. Classes admitted with demographic constraints often demonstrate academic performance that is superior to classes admitted in practice.

Rebecca Zwick has been a researcher at Educational Testing Service for over 20 years, where she currently holds the title of Distinguished Presidential Appointee. Her recent research at ETS has focused on test validity and fairness and on ways to improve score reporting. Zwick completed a National Science Foundation project in which her research team developed and evaluated instructional materials to help educators to better interpret standardized test results. She also explored the effect of high school quality on the predictive validity of SAT scores and high school grade-point average. Zwick served on technical advisory committees for the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), the Programme in International Student Assessment (PISA), and the SAT. After completing multiple years of research on the college admissions process she authored her 2017 book, Who Gets In? Strategies for Fair and Effective College Admissions.

Zwick is the incoming President of the National Council on Measurement in Education. She taught measurement, statistics, and educational testing as a professor from 1996-2010 at the Gevirtz Graduate School of Education at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Her career in education actually began in the 1970s, when she worked in teaching and counseling positions with children, adolescents, and adults. These experiences help to broaden her perspective on the role of tests and measurement.