Employers Say They Don't Trust Grade-Point Averages
By DOUGLAS BELKIN
Next spring, seniors at about 200 U.S. colleges will take a new test that could prove more important to their future than final exams: an SAT-like assessment that aims to cut through grade-point averages and judge students' real value to employers.
The test, called the Collegiate Learning Assessment, "provides an objective, benchmarked report card for critical thinking skills," said David Pate, dean of the School of Arts and Sciences at St. John Fisher College, a small liberal-arts school near Rochester, N.Y. "The students will be able to use it to go out and market themselves."
The test is part of a movement to find new ways to assess the skills of graduates. Employers say grades can be misleading and that they have grown skeptical of college credentials.
"For too long, colleges and universities have said to the American public, to students and their parents, 'Trust us, we're professional. If we say that you're learning and we give you a diploma it means you're prepared,' " said Michael Poliakoff, vice president of policy for the American Council of Trustees and Alumni. "But that's not true."
The new voluntary test, which the nonprofit behind it calls CLA +, represents the latest threat to the fraying monopoly that traditional four-year colleges have enjoyed in defining what it means to be well educated.
Here's a sample question: You look at some graphs on cell phone usage while driving, then write a several hundred word essay on whether it would be a good idea to pass a law banning phoning while driving.
Reasoning from quantitative data doesn't sound like a bad thing to test at all -- I do it all day long -- but I suspect it will just widen The Gap, with Moneyball fans benefiting the most. We all have these stereotypes about the reason that Hispanic girls don't do as well on tests overall as upper middle class white males is because tests don't test critical thinking skills and synthesizing inferences from data and so forth. But if you look around an airport book store, the frequent fliers, the people whose employers find it profitable to send around the country to deal with problems, seem to be mostly white and Asian guys who like Moneyball, Freakonomics, Nate Silver, Malcolm Gladwell and the like. So, making tests more like reading a Bill James essay is probably not going to close the gap, but you are a racist if you predict that, so, sure, go ahead.
After awhile, it will be noted that this latest panacea test hasn't closed The Gap, so new tests will be demanded.
Regarding job opportunities: My first thought is that they are going to have to hire a whole bunch of people to read these essays and grade them. It's boring work, but you get to do it indoors while sitting down. My second thought is that there would be a market if anybody could come up with a way to computerize grading. My third thought is that if this takes off, there will be a huge market for tutoring. And think how much more effective your tutoring will be if you could, say, know what the questions will be ahead of time.
Much the same thinking applies to the huge opportunities opened up by all the new tests demanded by the Common Core.
And then after awhile, there will be new buzzwords and then new tests. Rinse and repeat, forever.