How People Really Succeed in College

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At the same time many American colleges are making SAT submissions voluntary (perhaps in a cynical move to appear more selective) one academic offers an interesting take on the appropriate role of standardized testing in college admission. According to a book review in Miller-McCune:

Robert Sternberg argues that the SAT and ACT, the standard achievement and ability tests required for college admission, are too narrowly focused on memorization and analytical skills to predict leadership in today’s world. Also, he says, the scores on these tests correlate highly with socioeconomic class, unfairly penalizing students whose families can’t pay for tutors.

Meanwhile, grade-point averages, or, the numbers that typically count most in getting accepted to college, do not reflect the different academic standards of different high schools. GPAs can be inflated, too, and so can letters of recommendation. What’s needed, Sternberg said, is a more inclusive approach that would incorporate these traditional yardsticks but also try to identify students who are good critical thinkers or who are practical, creative or wise.

Apparently when Sternberg, now the provost at Oklahoma State University, was a child his school tested his IQ. Since he apparently tested poorly the school assumed he was slow and never expected him to succeed. It took him years to prove the school wrong.

In his new book, College Admissions for the 21st Century (above), Sternberg suggests that there’s a need for vigorous SAT-style standardized tests, but it’s time to go beyond that.

During his time at Tufts University , for instance, Sternberg developed the Kaleidoscope Project, which allows applicants to the school to demonstrate other abilities.

It’s not that the theoretical objectivity of standardized tests is wrong, according to Sternberg; it’s that such tests are only mildly relevant. In the real world, people simply don’t succeed or fail based exclusively on their intelligence.

People learn to operate by emphasizing their strengths and compensating for their weaknesses. People do that as they proceed though college, too. There is no reason admissions officers shouldn’t recognize such strategies and valid and important [Image via]

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer