From Memberanda, Summer 2013
Working as both a health educator and admission officer at The Wheeler School (RI), Meghan Kiley had the unique opportunity to watch the candidates she helped select transition into her classroom. After earning a master’s degree in school counseling from Rhode Island College while working at Wheeler, Meghan Kiley knew an E.Ed. in educational leadership was in her future. During her fourth year in admission, Kiley saw an opportunity to merge her studies with her admission work.
Kiley and her research partner, Robert K. Gable, Director of the Center for Research and Evaluation at the Alan Shawn Feinstein Graduate School of Johnson & Wales University, conducted research to identify attributes that admission officers felt were essential to student success in school and life. The two broke down the research attributes into three domains: Cognitive, Behavioral and Affective. The cognitive domain included critical thinking, creativity, curiosity, and problem solving. The attributes which fit within the behavioral domain were resilience, adaptation, task commitment, and ability to listen. Within the affective domain, the optimal attributes were intrinsic motivation, self-confidence in academic skills, emotional stability, perceived importance of education, passion for school, and interest in school.
Kiley and Gable developed and distributed a survey in the three domains to 553 admission officers, and had a 43% response rate. The results showed that cognitive domains (versus affective and behavioral domains) were rated highest. “I was initially surprised at the results, but then I thought of our own practice and realized Wheeler is similar to other schools: We screen for the academically fit kids, before looking for mission appropriate kids,” explained Kiley. Using a mixed-research design, Kiley and Gable were able to take the survey results even further. When initially distributed, the survey asked if participants were interested in receiving the results. Seventy-five participants were interested, and Kiley sought out these admission colleagues for phone interviews to focus further on three central issues:
(1) How much weight do admission counselors feel is being placed on test scores during the admission process?
(2) What attributes do admission counselors consider very important for student academic success?
(3) How do admission teams assess these important attributes during the admission process?
All of the respondents agreed that standardized test scores were simply “one piece of the puzzle” when it came to determining how well a student would perform at the end of grade nine. Interviewees also confirmed that the cognitive, affective, and behavioral domain attributes identified in the survey reflected the profile of the optimal students in their applicant pools. “Yet survey respondents and interviewees clearly indicated that the cognitive attributes are the most important, despite the growing research on the use of non-cognitive assessment,” she said. “I also found it interesting that so many researchers are focusing on humor, as it’s indicative of high emotional intelligence, positive psychological functioning, and a link to effective leadership ability, yet very few respondents and those we interviewed mentioned humor.”
As for Wheeler’s work, Kiley said that the admission team is working to detail a rubric of what they are seeking in applicants in each of the three domains. “As a team, we’re really discussing how we’re identifying these attributes. We’ve already implemented a few changes, including changing writing sample prompts to inspire more creativity. When students visit campus or sit in on a class, we’re now reaching out to the teacher and student hosts to gather feedback on the applicant’s behavior, interactions, and general interest. We need more than a gut feeling with these kids, but we know there’s more work to be done before we can implement significant changes in our practice. We need to strike that delicate balance to find just the right students for Wheeler.”