There Is a Serious Flaw in College Admissions

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Is who gets admitted to one of America's coveted universities each year mostly a numbers process that is badly flawed? You are more likely to have success at LOTTO.

Depending on the college, admissions people like to think that they have set the bar at the right level to screen out only those applicants that meet the colleges' requirements. Some look closely at the personal letter, if required, to find the young man or woman who offers the creativity the college demands, or the empathy or the passion. But this only comes after the combined scores are tailed and the cut offs are applied.

The truth is that most schools, particularly given the sheer number of applications, rely on GPA and SAT scores. According to the New York Times, Harvard received a record 27,278 applicants "for its next freshman class, a 19 percent increase over last year. Other campuses reporting double-digit increases included the University of Chicago (18 percent), Amherst College (17 percent), Northwestern (14 percent) and Dartmouth (10 percent)."

The problem is that GPAs vary school to school. The SAT, formerly known as the Scholastic Aptitude Test, is a standardized test for college admissions in the United States. It doesn't vary as much, but is increasingly being discounted by colleges because, many critics have accused, has a cultural bias toward the white and wealthy kids.

According to one well known study using data from California, "test-takers with family incomes of less than $20,000 a year had a mean score of 1310 while test-takers with family incomes of over $200,000 had a mean score of 1715, a difference of 405 points."

The former president of the University of California, Richard Atkinson, urged dropping the SAT Test as a college admissions requirement almost ten years ago. He said, "Anyone involved in education should be concerned about how overemphasis on the SAT is distorting educational priorities and practices, how the test is perceived by many as unfair, and how it can have a devastating impact on the self-esteem and aspirations of young students. There is widespread agreement that overemphasis on the SAT harms American education."

Using GPAs however, is worse.

"High schools don't use the same GPA scale,' according to Peterson College Search, 'and even when they do, many use weighted systems (perhaps giving extra "points" to grades from honors, accelerated, International Baccalaureate, or Advanced Placement classes), and employ varying methods of calculating a cumulative GPA. The trouble is that the GPA measure is terribly imprecise and hard to compare" Thus Peterson says, "Your GPA is very much dependent upon your high school setting and grading policies and the classes you have taken."

These is of course another flaw -- fatal really -- made even worse by No Child Left Behind (NCLB), which has schools across the nation tied in knots trying to insure kids score high on federally mandated tests of their prowess in math and science. The emphasis on testing, to the exclusion of all else is having a disastrous impact on teachers, educators, parents, and children.

To what end?

The film circulating to schools now called The Race to Nowhere, is about the stress kids are under to get into a "good college," to get a "good job," to succeed. There is clearly a serious flaw in College Admissions and it trickles all the way down to kindergarten, maybe preschool. While there is no silver bullet, there must be other ways to make the admissions judgment.