Think Tank“Working within a system,” Bill Sedlacek replied when Ray Diffley and I asked him about what one criterion among the many on his Non-Cog list he would choose to evaluate applicants, if he could choose only one.

Our conversation took place after Sedlacek’s keynote presentation at the University of Southern California’s Rossiter Center for Enrollment Research, Policy and Practice annual conference “Attributes That Matter,” which Ray and I attended on behalf of the SSATB Think Tank.

In his landmark book, Beyond the Big Test, Sedlacek elaborates: “the applicant’s ability to understand the role of the system in life and to develop a method of assessing the cultural or racial demands of the system and respond accordingly and assertively.” This is one of the eight research-based traits this distinguished scholar has, over a lifetime, determined “present a method of improving assessments for all students and are particularly useful for nontraditional students.”


We should be clear here: Sedlacek is not arguing we should dismiss traditional cognitive assessment in the form of the SAT or its analogues. Like Sternberg and other scholars in this field, he is calling for a more balanced approach, a both/and proposition that is entirely aligned with the mission of this Think Tank. To quote him in what might be something of a thesis for Beyond the Big Test:

We do not need to ignore our current tests; what we need is to add some new measures that expand the potential we can derive from the assessment. The goal of using non-cognitive variables is not to substitute this approach for the cognitive focus more commonly employed in assessments, but toadd to the range of attributes that we can consider in making the many judgments required of us all.” (Italics in original)

Read the full post at SSATB/The Admissions Organization…. 


When we are selecting for admission, do we prioritize selections of those who will succeed inside our halls, or those who will be most successful in using our education to be valuable after leaving our school?

In one of the most fascinating presentations of the USC conference, Sheldon Zadeck, a professor of industrial psychology at UC Berkeley shared the story of his ten plus year, as I understood it, project with the highly selective UC Berkeley Boalt Hall law school.

You can see his lengthy presentation above.

His work dates to the end of affirmative action, on the basis of race or ethnicity, in California by popular referendum.   As he explained, the result was a steep decline in the number of enrolled African Americans and Hispanics– because, he explained, their LSATs, and their combined rating of undergraduate GPA and LSAT scores, their INDEX,  were rarely high enough for admission.


Upon close review, it was also found that that combination could be “justified,” because it was a high predictor for first year law school GPA.

But- maybe first year GPA is not the only, or best, thing we should ask of prospective students applying to law school.   It not good law students we are seeking to add to the world’s ranks, it is high quality lawyers.

zedeckInstead, this professor spent years studying very intensely how one might establish the definition of a good attorney– and came up with 26 criteria.

Quoting the conference blog:

The 26 factors were organized into 8 categories including: intellectual and cognitive, research and information gathering, communications, planning and organizing, conflict resolution, client and business relationships- entrepreneurship, working with others (other attorneys), and character (passion and engagement, diligence, etc.).

Next up was collecting a sample set of over 1000 California attornies, Boalt Hall alums, who subjected themselves to rigorous evaluations– by themselves, peers, supervisors, etc– of their effectiveness on each of these 26.

The first question that follows: Did their LSAT scores predict their effectiveness as a lawyer?

For almost half– 12 of these factors, LSAT did correlate.

But for nearly a third, LSAT scores inversely correlated!

Regarding the INDEX of undergraduate GPA and LSATs, the INDEX predicted 9 of the 26 performance dimensions and 4 were negative.

As the blog quotes, Zedeck:

Thus, for some domains, the better you did on the LSAT, the less effective you would be in the workforce in that specific domain. (more…)

This is the third of four posts about the USC Rossier Attributes that Matter Conference.

Morning Sessions: Non-cognitive Variables in Action and Attributes of Good Students and Good Professionals

Where Bill Sedlacek (see previous post) laid out the intellectual concept of noncognitive assessment with a bit of history and a lot of theory, sharing his decades of research and his passionate advocacy, the following two sessions took us from theory to practice, as five university administrators and researcher told us about the fascinating work they’d done in this field.


Two bold and innovative directors of admissions at the university level, (Oregon State and DePaul), came to report that, despite their best efforts, their experiments with noncog assessment have had only very limited success in predicting student performance on campus.

As Eric Hoover reports in the Chronicle of Higher Ed about Noah Buckley’s leadership at OSU.

In 2004 the university added to its application the Insight Résumé, six short-answer questions.  One prompt asks applicants to describe how they overcame a challenge; another, to explain how they’ve developed knowledge in a given field.

The answers, scored on a 1-to-3 scale, inform admissions decisions in borderline cases, of applicants with less than a 3.0 GPA. “This gives us a way to say, ‘Hey, this is a diamond in the rough,'” Mr. Buckley says. For students with GPAs of 3.75 or higher, the scores help determine scholarship eligibility.

The Insight Résumé is a work in progress, Mr. Buckley says.

Reading 17,000 sets of essays requires a lot of time and training. Meanwhile, he believes the addition has helped Oregon State attract more-diverse applicants, but it’s hard to know for sure. A recent analysis found that although the scores positively correlated with retention and graduation rates, they did not offer “substantive improvements in predictions” of students’ success relative to other factors, especially high-school GPAs.

Details about the Insight Resume can be found in the slides above; it includes

Six short-answer questions asked as part of admissions application:
•Leadership / group contributions
•Knowledge in a field / creativity
•Dealing with adversity
•Community service
•Handling systemic changes / discrimination
•Goals / task commitment

Similarly, at DePaul as at OSU, very meaningful evidentiary results still stand further in the future.   (more…)

(2nd post in a series of there from the USC Attributes that Matter conference)

For several decades, going back to the 1960’s, University of Maryland Professor, now Emeritus, William “Bill” Sedlacek has been sounding the call, an inspirational one, to better appreciate the significance of non cognitive dimensions of learning and success, and has been calling upon all of us who are educators to integrate assessment of these “non-cogs” into university, and now K-12, admissions evaluation and student progress evaluation.

Bill sedlacekRegular readers here know of my passion for transparency and open-source sharing– that as much as is possible, we should make freely available our tools, resources, practices, and learnings, and welcome others to take and use them freely.   Sedlacek, who surely could have decided upon many moments in his career to seek to monetize his research and findings by creating a commercial, profit-making, noncognitive test, has instead taken the path of developing, posting, and sharing many different tools, welcoming schools and universities to take and adapt to his purposes.

As he explained, as a Professor he was successful, financially, enough– and “why would I need more? That others are using my tools, adapting them to their needs, to improve their process, their educational program, and opportunities for others is reward enough.” 

There is accordingly an extraordinary abundance of tools and resources freely available at Sedlacek’s site, here:

From that site, here is just a quick view of the particular instruments he is making available on his site, which could be of value to any and all educators seeking to expand their work in noncog assessment:

Professor Sedlacek’s presentation, which you can review in the slides above, and which is elaborated in writing in the document embedded below, was certainly to my eyes the highlight of the USC conference, Attributes that Matter: Beyond the Usual in College Admission and Success.


Why NonCog?  Obviously, this is the place to start, and Sedlacek laid out many purposes, all of which are very relevant to K-12 educators. (more…)

Attributes(First of 3 posts)

This conference surged with a spirited optimism.

We can do this: we can improve our ability

  • to predict who will succeed in our schools and colleges and who will benefit from our school’s programs and attributes;
  • to differentiate our institutions and market their unique values;  we can improve our ability to support our incoming students when they arrive by understanding them better in the admissions process;
  • and, perhaps most importantly, in the work of selective admissions, as complicated as they are, we can better choose those students who will best benefit from our programs to make a positive impact in their professions.

Last week I attended the USC Rossier Center for Enrollment Research Policy and Practice’s Attributes That Matter: Beyond the Usual in College Admission and Success  annual conference.  This is the first of three posts about the conference.

As regular readers know, exploring how we assess what our students are learning, and what things are most important for us to assess,  are  regular pursuits here.

This exciting conference looked at this topic through the prism of university admissions, but there is much we can learn and apply to the K-12 arena from this research.  This is the broader agenda of the this conference is explained by its chair:

What makes students succeed in school and how can we evaluate these things in students applying to our schools or preparing for further education, and what is important for students to learn, master and demonstrate for success later in life?

Eric Hoover at The Chronicle of Higher Ed explains the conference’s purpose this way:

Every year, presidents and professors expect freshmen who are curious, determined, and hungry for challenges. The traditional metrics of merit, however, can’t reveal such qualities. Standardized-test scores may or may not predict a given student’s long-term potential. Grade-point averages present only a partial view of an applicant’s talents and work habits. And so, some admissions officers say, it’s time for a new set of tools.

Critical discussion topics across the course of the conference included:

  1. Recognizing the noncog dimension is essential to all learning and thinking.
  2. Why noncog is increasingly essential to quality admissions assessment.
  3. What are key non-cog domains?
  4. Where do we find and how do we afford these tools?  How do we “operationalize” this?
  5. How’s is the progress of experiminents and initiatives underway in colleges and universities?

Of course, it is critical to recognize that the very Non-Cognitive, which emerged decades ago to describe these areas outside of IQ, are nevertheless entirely interwoven with our cognitive experiences and aptitudes.

Mary Helen Immordino Yang This was among the key messages made by the first night kick-off speaker, Mary Helen Immordino-Yang, from USC’s Brain and Creativity Institute, on the topic:   Embodied Brains, Social Minds: The importance of social reflectiveness and emotional awareness in young adult development

She argued that

Success in the 21st century requires not just positive results on the usual metrics but results measured in much, broader and richer ways.   We need to prepare people who can manage these changing times, creatively, responsibly, intellectually, socially.

What evidence are we gathering about the nature of emotions, to have a self, to have a subjective sense of purpose—how do we get that sense of self, how do we foster that and cultivate that in our young people?

Neuro-biologically, our minds are inherently social minds, the intellect that we have does not stand independent from the rest of our lives:  we use our intellect collaboratively—and we must take many inferences from the socially embedded minds. (more…)