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Soft Skills matter: reliance on test scores to meet enrollment goals is outdated

The first SAT test was administered nearly 100 years ago, in 1926. In an era long before other screening tools existed, colleges saw immediate benefit in using the SAT and other standardized tests as an efficient way to assess large numbers of applicants.

There are two big issues at hand. First, at the very top of the admissions funnel, colleges use test scores as a criteria when purchasing their target list of potential candidates.  This methodology to identify potential students means that colleges may be missing out on attracting a strong candidate who’s scores may not make the cut.

Secondly, test scores are also used to “pre-screen” applicants, potentially culling out students who could in fact be valuable contributors and successful at a certain college.

Changing this process is in order, and there are many enrollment professionals who are implementing other methods besides test scores to quickly and accurately identify potential students, as well as assess student potential, and their ability to succeed.

There is no doubt that a broader perspective can help prevent potentially high achieving students from being eliminated from consideration early in the admissions process. Coupled with a growing trend of test optional colleges (over 1000 and climbing), there are many colleges who have abandoned relying strictly on test scores (and grades) to assess student potential.

Projects to bring about these changes are afoot, and they’re gaining traction. Two powerful streams are feeding their urgency: the pressure on colleges and universities to diversify their campuses, and a yearning in K-12 to pursue and measure learning in deeper, more meaningful ways.

It’s great to see colleges exploring  new ways to target and evaluate students.
De-emphasizing tests scores for applicants is important. There is a great deal of  research showing that a student’s potential relies on more than cognition. Traits such as optimism, curiosity, resilience, and perserverance are factors that may in fact play a stronger role in determining a student’s long-term success, not only in school but in career and life.

As there is a growing agreement amongst educators that “soft skills” are important, there is still concern on how this skill set can be measured consistently and fairly. The good news is that things like persistence, drive, attitude, and a desire and willingness to learn can in fact be measured, and can allow colleges to apply less emphasis on standardized test scores.

Organizations like the Educational Training Service has developed a tool called the Personal Potential Index. It provides a method to rate students on things like communication skills, ethics and integrity, knowledge and creativity, planning and organization, resilience, and teamwork. These scores could also be used for colleges to access and recruit students based on these soft skills. In the corporate world, we rely heavily on the resume, track record, and results to identify potential candidates, and then an interview process to move people through to the final selection process. There may be test scores used to evaluate and choose who we might want to meet and recruit, but other skill sets are equally considered. Doesn’t it make sense for colleges to implement some similar methods? The ability to learn and succeed is so much more important than the ability to ace the SAT or ACT.

As with anything that has been relied on for decades, or in this case nearly 100 years, there is room for change and a fresh perspective. The technology and tools exist to change the game.

If you would like to learn more about the ways College Interactive is providing access to potential students, especially those who are opting out of standardized testing, please visit us on-line or contact us for more information.