November 28, 2010

High-school smarty-pants may not be best collegian

A Tufts study finds wisdom and creativity are better predictors of success.

By ROBERT J. STERNBERG Special to The Washington Post

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In 2005, I became dean of arts and sciences at Tufts and helped start the Kaleidoscope Project, which added to the Tufts application optional questions designed to assess creative, analytical and practical skills and general wisdom.

Above is one example of a "creative" question. An analytical question might ask a student what his favorite book is and why. A practical question might ask a student how she convinced a friend of an idea. And a wisdom-oriented question might ask him how a high school passion might be turned toward the common good later in life.

How could we evaluate answers to questions that seem so subjective? Through well-developed scoring rubrics. For example, one can score creative responses based on how original and compelling they are and how appropriately they accomplish the task at hand.

This system has been in place for five years, with about two-thirds of Tufts's roughly 15,500 annual applicants choosing to answer one of the optional questions. My collaborators and I have published a study in the journal College and University on the results. Among key findings: After controlling for high school grades and SATs, Tufts' new admissions questions improved prediction of college grades. They also helped forecast which students would shine as active campus citizens and leaders, and virtually eliminated the admissions edge enjoyed by some ethnic groups.

Robert J. Sternberg is provost and senior vice president of Oklahoma State University.


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