February 13, 2002 2 min read

Taking Measure

Lee C. Bollinger, the president of Columbia University, told a gathering of college-admissions officers and researchers that the red- hot debate over the role of the SAT in college admissions reflects a more significant problem in higher education.

“The more fundamental issue is the seemingly endless rising sense of competition, or a particular kind of competition, among applicants and among selective colleges and universities,” Mr. Bollinger said at a recent conference in Washington sponsored by the New York City-based College Board, titled “New Tools for Admissions to Higher Education: Expanding Measures of Accomplishment and Predictors of Success.”

Mr. Bollinger said the much-publicized proposal unveiled a year ago by Richard C. Atkinson, the president of the University of California, to eliminate the SAT I as a requirement for admissions, sparked an important debate. But that debate, Mr. Bollinger said, should not overshadow a negative trend he sees. Noting the inflated importance of U.S. News andWorld Report‘s rankings of top colleges and universities, he faulted higher education leaders for not communicating the message that education is about cultivating a deep intellectual and artistic life in a diverse environment.

“We are at risk of it all seeming, and becoming, more and more a game,” he said. “What matters less is the education and more the brand.”

The two-day College Board conference began Jan. 31, a day after a faculty committee at the University of California recommended in a report that SAT scores should not weigh so heavily in admissions decisions.

Other panelists at the conference looked at how different measures could be used to complement college- admissions tests in evaluating applicants. Robert J. Sternberg, a professor of education and psychology at Yale University, presented some findings from a test designed to measure creativity. The College Board, which sponsors the SAT, has financed some of Mr. Sternberg’s work to look at ways to adjust the SAT to measure a broader range of skills.

Mr. Sternberg’s project has examined ways to assess creativity and practical skills. The kind of test he is studying might ask students to write very short stories based on a suggested title, for example, or to identify effective ways to run a family budget. Preliminary results have shown that these tests produce a more diverse pool of applicants than traditional assessment measures.

“We think this might be another way of achieving an equity goal,” Mr. Sternberg said.

—John Gehring

A version of this article appeared in the February 13, 2002 edition of Education Week