Admission Office Implements New Character Component to Application

At many prep schools, admission can be accomplished with a sharpened #2 pencil and a SSAT registration. At Choate, prospective students face standardized tests and tests of character. Starting with the 2017-2018 application cycle, the Admission Office will use the SSAT Character Skills Snapshot in its application review.

The Snapshot, a 29-question test assessing applicants’ personal traits, is an optional but strongly recommended aspect of a Choate application. It presents students with two types of questions: forced-choice questions, which list three statements and ask students to identify which ones most and least accurately describe them; and situational judgment questions, which ask students to rank the most appropriate and least appropriate reactions to a given scenario. The test is free for students who register for the SSAT, though it may only be taken once per application cycle.

Illustration by Austen Rogers/The Choate News
Results from the Snapshot were sent to the student and any secondary schools of their choice on December 18, 2017. The test measures eight personality traits: open-mindedness, self-control, teamwork, resilience, responsibility, social awareness, initiative, and intellectual curiosity. Traits are rated on an increasing scale — ranked in categories of emerging, developing, or demonstrating — then compared with a norm group of students within the same gender and age group who also took the assessment.

Mr. Amin Abdul-Malik Gonzalez, Director of Admissions, said, “All eight of the character skills assessed are of important interest to us and are in line with Choate’s mission and values. We care about character because it’s a part of our mission. That’s why we’re assessing it as part of our application process. So I think that we’re helping the school, prospective students, and families by looking at critical, non-quantitative parts of the application.”

“The overall goal of the Snapshot is for students to provide additional information about their character to schools,” explained Ms. Meghan Brenneman, Director of Character Assessment Programs at the Enrollment Management Association (EMA) during a webinar released in July 2017. “It’s meant to be a complement [to the SSAT], and to provide schools with a richer, more well-rounded picture of the applicant.”

As the 2017-2018 application review continues, the weight Choate will give the Snapshot remains unclear. Mr. Gonzalez said, “Because it’s still early in the admissions cycle, we haven’t seen very many of them. How it’ll be weighted is still to be determined. However, when we consider the Snapshot, we’re seeing it in the context of the rest of the application. But when it’s not there, it’s not going to disadvantage a student.”

Development of the Snapshot began in 2014 from collaboration between the EMA, Educational Testing Service, and a group of 46 independent schools, including Choate, The Groton School, and Phillips Exeter Academy. Through collaboration with admission directors, heads of schools, and independent school teachers, the Snapshot formed preliminary test questions and underwent a rigorous trial period. By 2016, more than 12,000 students had pilot-tested the program.

Although important questions about character assessments still exist — among them, the complications of having a standardized test evaluate character — Mr. Gonzalez is optimistic about the Snapshot. He said, “There are questions that have come up and will have to be revisited. The test is somewhat standardized, but it’s also individualized. The student takes it in their own time, in their own space. You don’t study, because there’s no right answer. There are degrees that are measured. The test runs have shown that it has reliability and credibility, and there’s no ‘perfect score’ like there is a 2400 on the SSAT.”

Choate has long advocated character tests in admissions. The Choate Self-Assessment, initiated in 2000 by former Director of Admissions Mr. Ray Diffley III, paved the way for character assessment models in independent schools. During the ten-year project, Mr. Diffley collaborated with Dr. Robert J. Sternberg P’97 ’98, then a professor at Yale, to develop a tool that would assess potential success at Choate. Research behind the Choate Self-Assessment was published in the fall 2009 edition of Journal of Educational Psychology under the title “Are SSATs and GPA Enough? A Theory-Based Approach to Predicting Academic Success in Secondary Schools.”

The Choate Self-Assessment consisted of 40 questions measuring self-advocacy, locus of control, and motivation sources. It was offered to prospective students until the 2017-2018 application cycle, when applicants had the option to take the SSAT Character Skills Snapshot instead.

In a 2016 interview regarding the Choate Self-Assessment, Mr. Diffley said, “We hope, at Choate, that we are trying to make the most informed decisions and evolve the way that admissions offices and educators look at a student.” He continued, “There’s some great things happening right now that may be evident in the application process in the near future. A lot of those things happen to do with what makes one successful in and beyond school — and how that can be both part of the admission process and the school itself in teaching these traits.”

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