How do you measure leadership and other intangibles? Emotional intelligence is one conceptual tack, but college admissions are now trying to integrate more fully the concept into the admissions process even more folly.
This is not unlike the considerable research and effort companies put into “getting the right person on the bus.” It is also an important part of leadership.
Although noncognitive assessments are supposed to do the same, there’s no consensus on how best to get at students’ intangible qualities. With no gold standard, researchers are dabbling in an array of approaches. The College Board has tested a standardized way to measure 12 qualities, such as artistic and cultural appreciation, and integrity. The Educational Testing Service has created the Personal Potential Index, an online system allowing evaluators to rate applicants in six categories, including communication skills and teamwork. A means of standardizing letters of recommendation, the index has caught on at some graduate schools and may have a future in undergraduate admissions.
For now, most noncognitive assessments are homegrown experiments, exciting yet challenging. Just ask Noah Buckley, director of admissions at Oregon State University.
In 2004 the university added to its application the Insight Résumé, six short-answer questions based on the research of William E. Sedlacek, a professor emeritus of education at the University of Maryland at College Park and pioneer of noncognitive assessment. One prompt asks applicants to describe how they overcame a challenge; another, to explain how they’ve developed knowledge in a given field.