Assessment in Higher Education: Issues of Access, Quality, Student Development, and Public Policy

By Samuel J. Messick | Go to book overview

11
COMMENTARY
INTERPRETING SCORES IN CONTEXT TO IDENTIFY STUDENT POTENTIAL

Fred A. Hargadon

Princeton University

I tend to be a skeptic when it comes to expanding admissions testing. As a practicing admissions officer, I have spent the last couple of months, day in and day out, reading thousands of applications with all kinds of test results attached to them and wondering how expanded testing could be useful in admissions decisions. As an instance, I am skeptical of the writing sample of the Scholastic Assessment Test (SAT), partly because it is brand new, partly because I am generally reluctant to think that we can keep measuring more and more in fewer and fewer minutes. But it also struck me that all of the college faculties I ever worked with make the assumption that we should be admitting people who can write. They are not interested in us having a broader diagnostic evaluation for those we admit who cannot write. In other words, a basic requirement in college admissions, admittedly from a narrow focus, is, "How can I distinguish those who can write potentially well enough to succeed in our curriculum from those who cannot?"

However, when I look at the writing test right now, I don't know what to do with the writing scores. I have no idea what they mean. Now that we have a writing score in the admissions process, all of a sudden we get a flood of letters from schools--usually independent schools--saying that the writing scores are all out of whack with the verbal scores and do not agree with their own assessment of the students' ability to write. The fact is that many of us who use these tests do not know how to interpret the composite score and the separate subscores for the writing sample and the multiple-choice exercises. With respect to the subscores,

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