As an admission professional, I collect lots and lots of data. Through our application process, we receive grades, test scores, and countless pieces of information for each student who applies to our PK-12 school. Here at Durham Academy, this may also mean collecting information about ethnicity, financial information, giving history, and every family connection a student may have with my institution. In late summer, my office does a big data dump to disseminate the relevant information to our academic offices and divisions.
Recently, I began wondering whether some or all of the data our process gathers were predicting success at our school. Are we getting the right data by asking the right questions? And once we get the answers, are the metrics we use in admission valid in determining who is going to do well? When we admit new students, how do they fare? Prompted by a desire to improve our process, I dove in.
This summer, Durham Academy began a longitudinal study on whether our admission process predicts success (in the broadest sense of the word) at our school. It was time to review whether entrance tests, interview questions, and various other components of the application process helped our admission committees determine which students would flourish academically and socially.
The first step was to ask what we value in our students. I asked teachers, division directors, college counseling, and even college admission folks. As you can imagine, for a school spanning 14 grades, the answers were varied. I then asked, what are qualities we appreciate in prospective students? Are we proactively and deliberately including indicators for these attributes in our applications, interviews, recommendation forms, etc.? When reading applications, are our committees measuring the things we value in our admission evaluations? Any signs of dissonance became areas of improvement for the year. We created new interview questions that incorporated non-cognitive skills that my upper school prizes, such as risk taking. We asked sending teachers more questions about group interaction in the preschool teacher recommendation.
The next step was to dissect the data further to determine whether our review of applicants was predictive. Although we have always followed up on newly-enrolled students, the information gathered has been largely anecdotal. “John is having trouble in Mr. Cullen’s geometry class” or “Suzie isn’t always sitting still during circle time.” So for students new in Fall 2012, I went back and looked at transcripts and our evaluations during admission. I then compared those to their Durham Academy grades. I compared any testing done in their tenure at Durham Academy with their entrance exams. I looked at athletic and club involvement, leadership, parent engagement, and other ways students contribute to our school community. I asked my faculty on the admission committee to re-evaluate those students now—a year later.
The results are fascinating, and I am just starting to scratch the surface with the data. When families ask me “what counts” in admission, my answer has always included the word “holistic.” My hope is that through this study of our process we ensure that we are identifying the many factors that make up that student who thrives at our school. Understanding the profile of what Durham Academy values and tailoring applications and our review process to uncover that have been immensely gratifying. Putting all that data to good use is really the “art and science” of admission work.