Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Précis #4: Throw Out the College Application System

Adam Grant, author and professor of management and psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, in his opinion essay “Throw Out the College Application System”, from The New York Times opinion pages, holds that the current college admissions system is faulty. In fact, he declares that there is a “better way for colleges to gather comprehensive information about candidates,” by way of “assessment center[s]” (Grant 3).

Grant employs specific examples, historical evidence, and logos to defend his position. He implores schools to move away from the current application system that leaves “many colleges favoring achievement robots” and “overlooking talented C students” (Grant 2). Grant claims that students with “less than perfect grades” may go on to be greater than anyone imagined, and points to Steven Spielberg and Steve Jobs as examples (ibid). He declares that skillful and imaginative C students could go on to “dream up blockbuster films” or “become entrepreneurs,” but colleges would not know this because they only see grades and one dimensioned recommendation letters, thus necessitating the use of assessment centers. Grant then utilizes historical evidence to explain the usefulness of such centers. He claims that they’ve “been in use for more than half a century” and “the roots of the assessment center in the United States can be traced back to… President Franklin D. Roosevelt” and his creation of a secret intelligence group called the O.S.S. (Grant 4). The O.S.S. developed an effective system of assessments to select spies, and the techniques are now used at companies like AT&T and General Electric. Grant contends that in person and collaborative assessments can “prove powerful in evaluating skills and predicting future behavior” (Grant 8). Finally, Grant employs logos to bolster his point. Assessment centers “would solve at least three problems for college admissions” (Grant 10). The first problem of the inconsistency of recommendations and interview reports could be solved through the evaluation of students’ responses to “standardized questions… rated by multiple evaluators on a common standard” (ibid). The second issue of grades and test scores can be combated by tests of “wisdom and practical intelligence” or “interpersonal and emotional skills” challenges (Grant 11, 12). Thirdly, portfolios and essays can be vetted in person, as it can be assessed that a student was “personally responsible for the work they produce[d]” (Grant 13). It simply makes sense to institute assessment centers as part of the college admissions process, if schools want to accept dynamic and multi-faceted students. 

Grant’s overarching purpose is to convince readers and universities that the current admissions process is failing valuable students who don’t perform well academically. To do this, he employs earnest diction, proclaiming that “[b]y broadening the range of criteria, assessment centers make it possible to spot diamonds in the rough” (Grant 11). Such use of language communicates to the reader how strongly he feels about elevating non-academic students, and contributes to his passionate tone. Syntactically, Grant employs several simple sentences, such as his statement that “[a]ssessment centers give nontraditional students a better chance to display their strengths” (ibid). This sentence structure aligns with Grant’s goal, which though a massive undertaking, is simple: to provide a platform for students of all backgrounds to show their excellence in areas outside of the narrow confines of academic performance. Such grammar contributes to his passionate tone. 

Grant makes many valid points. However, I qualify with him. In person, dynamic assessment situations can indeed reveal other facets of students. However, if candidates are being evaluated on one "common standard", how is this different from standardized testing (Grant 10)? Assessments would simply alienate a different group of students allow a new group to shine. Assessment centers are faulty as well, because too broad of standards could mean schools should admit almost everyone, and too narrow makes it so that they are still only looking for a specific type of student who fits inside of their parameters. Such centers could be a 'successful predictor' of student success and work well to elevate lower performing students, but they still have their drawbacks (Grant 6). Until more comprehensive ways of selecting students are created, students should simply work to stand out within the confines of the current system. 

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