Choosing students; Higher education admissions tools for the 21st century

edited by Wayne J. Camara and Ernest W. Kimmel

Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2005. isbn 0-8058-4752-9. questia

reviewed by Ben Wilbrink

This volume of 2005 easily is the most up to date and comprehensive description of the American 'system' of admissions to higher education. A critical note on the functioning of that system is not missing in all of its chapters, yet the overwhelming impression is that these authors regard the American system the best system there is, and that the many problems perceived can be solved by making the system and its tests etcetera 'work better.'

The problem that is not discussed - or even recogized - in the book is that institutions competing with each other for the 'best' students, use their selectivity itself as a major instrument to attract students. In combination with the American tendency to define educational quality as selectivity, the analysis of the admissions process runs the risk of running in circles. See the Brewer c.s. (2002) book (mentioned at the end of this page) on the real competitive processes behind admissions in American higher education.

Lee C. Bollinger: Competition in higher education and admissions testing.

Robert Laird: What is it we think we are trying to fix and how should we fix it? A view from the admissions office

Ernest W. Kimmel: Who is at the door? The demography of higher education in the 21st century

Wayne J. Camara: Broadening criteria of college success and the impact of cognitive predictors

Wayne J. Camara: Broadening predictors of college success

Paul R. Sackett: The performance-diversity tradeoff in admission testing

Warren E. Willingham: Prospects for improving grades for use in admissions

Robert L. Linn: Evaluating college applicants : some alternatives

Robert J. Sternberg en The Rainbow project medewerkers: Augmenting the SAT through assessments of analytical, practical, and creative skills

Rebecca Zwick (Ed.) (2004). Rethinking the SAT. The future of standardized testing in university admissions. RoutledgeFalmer questia

William E. Sedlacek: The case for noncognitive measures

Neal Schmitt, Frederick L. Oswald, en Michael A. Gillespie: Broadening the performance domain in the prediction of academic success

Patricia M. Etienne and Ellen R. Julian: Assessing the personal characteristics of premedical students

Peter J. Pashley, Andrea E. Thornton, and Jennifer R. Duffy: Access and diversity in law school admissions

Isaac I. Bejar: Toward a science of assessment

Stanley Rabinowitz: The integration of secondary and postsecondary assessment systems : cautionary concerns

Michael W. Kirst: Rethinking admission and placement in an era of new K-12 standards

David T. Conley: Proficiency-based admissions

Having read this far, you will have an intuitive feeling about the criteria I use in evaluating the proposals etcetera in the Camara-Kimmel book. Let me spell them out, for clarity's sake.
To begin with, I use my lifetime expertise in studying admissions issues in the Netherlands, and advising politicians about the possibilities and impossibilities involved. No need saying politicians prefer to base their decisions on the impossibilities the selection psychologist will identify.
There is an excellent collection of standards ruling the production and use of (psychological) tests in high stakes testing, published by the American Psychological Association. These standards have been used in courts (Lerner, 1978), Congress (for example Eva Baker 2001) etcetera. It is especially the use of instruments like the SAT in admissions that is highly problematic in the light of these standards. This is a fact that is not noticed by many stakeholders, because everybody seems to take it for granted 1) that it is the institutions taking the decisions (imagine your hospital to treat you like this), 2) that they are free to select the students that are most cost-effective to the institution (imagine your hospital to take only patients asking the smallest amount of care), 3) that students gifted with talents do merit admission to the 'best' institutions (do they 'merit' the talents they are born with or born into?), and 4) that the more selective the institution, the more value its educational programs add to the capabilities of its students.
Alexander Astin (the above hospital metaphor is his), who made it his lifetime job to study selectivity and quality of America's institutions of higher education, denies ever to have seen evidence for 4) above to be true. Meaning that the use of the SAT in admissions does not add the slightest value to the output of America's higher education measured in terms of human capital, or Gross National Product for that matter. The point here is simply that institutions should not be allowed to compete for the 'best' students using the admissions process. Which boils down to the question who or which institution is entitled to take admissions decisions. This is the big question behind almost any remark in the above review about the positions taken by the authors and the way some of these positions may be criticized. In the Netherlands there is no question that the student is the primary decision maker. At least until shortly, for now there is a strong current in politics to adopt American ways for admission (politicians are always attracted to the impossibilities: the most prestigious courses in the Netherlands - f.e., natural sciences, engineering, mathematics, informatics - suffer under falling numbers of applicants!).
Which brings me to the point of the review. American selective admissions are highly visible to politicians abroad and to visiting professors, and therefore will influence admissions policies everywhere in the world, as they will in the Netherlands. Nothing wrong with that, as long the American admissions process proves to be sound and productive (and exportable, which it is not). Have Camara and Kimmel convinced this selection psychologist it is sound and productive?

American Psychological Association (1999). The Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing. Developed jointly by: American Educational Research Association (AERA), American Psychological Association (APA), National Council on Measurement in Education (NCME).

American Psychological Association (1999). Code of fair testing practices in education. Prepared by the Joint Committee on Testing Practices.

Alexander W. Astin (1985). Achieving educational excellence San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Alexander W. Astin (1993). Assessment for excellence: the philosophy and practice of assessment and evaluation in higher education. American Council on Education / Oryx series on higher education.

Alexander W. Astin (1993). What matters in college? Four Critical Years revisited. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Burton Clark (1985). The school and the university. University of California Press. [Admissions in other countries]

Barbara Lerner (1978). The Supreme Court and the APA, AERA, NCME Test Standards: past references and future possibilities. American Psychologist, 33, 915-919. (And a bonus article:)

Barbara Lerner (1997). America's schools: still failing after all these years. National Review, Sept 15. html (about another kind of standards, not unrelated to the admissions question)

Special page of annotated references on admissions, in the US as well as elsewhere.

November 22, 2006 \ contact ben at at at    

If you have comments or supplementary information, mail me.

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