A revolution in student assessment is underway. From addressing epidemics of anxiety and loneliness to honoring emotional and spiritual growth, it's time for a new kind of SATs—one that values what's vital and inspiring in our youth.
Dr. Grauer's Column - The Not-SATs
A new kind of college and post-secondary testing is on the way. A future where graduating seniors are assessed on the things we care about most is emerging. These next-generation assessments include reliable and valid student surveys like the HSSSE, Panorama Student Survey, and Challenge Success. These are the future of assessment of schools and colleges. This week’s column delves into why they matter.
Like almost all great schools, The Grauer School uses data incessantly to drive our school's direction and set greater goals. Historically, SAT scores were held as the perfect example of objective, consistent ways to rank schools and colleges (and their students). Universities and workplaces are increasingly trying to understand applicants' potential for success, but those standardized measures like SAT, ACT, AP exams, ISEE, and others present an oblique or distorted view of “the whole student,” and they have not proven to be all that useful. New, reliable and critical ways of assessing student potentials are arriving.
The Rise of Alternative Rankings
Non-state organizations such as GreatSchools.org and Niche have been pioneers in this effort. They have used publicly available information to create consumer-oriented rating systems, aiming to include engagement and wellness, and reaching out to learn what families care most about. However, we can do better than crowd-sourced ratings. Likewise, we can outperform the infamous school and college ranking systems of journals like "US News & World Report" and "Forbes" by offering a more holistic and equitable set of criteria for ranking. Those ranking services almost completely leave out the personal student experience in favor of things like GPA, faculty papers published, student debt, and alumni giving. Important, but how are the students really doing? Are they honest, happy, engaged, or courageous? Do these not matter in the ranking of a school?
The Diminishing Role of Traditional SATs
For many years, many schools and colleges argued that the SATs, despite their flaws, have a proven track record and that removing them could lead to a lack of standardized comparison among applicants. Traditional SAT scores grew to be the gold standard but are now diminished and seen as inequitable and incomplete; only 16% of our students at The Grauer School even submitted them last year, amidst one of the most successful college admissions cycles of our school’s history. The new SATs (or whatever they will be called) will infuse the shopworn “SAT” concept with meaning and purpose, leveling the playing field for all students, schools, and colleges who want to be ranked and valued by more diverse and compassionate criteria.
Broader Measures of Success
These broader measures will not just foster more balanced aspirations but can open doors for a greater diversity of students, thereby narrowing the income and opportunity gap. In a world where racial and ethnic inclusion in admissions may be deemed illegal, alternative normed scores will challenge admissions officers at schools and colleges to advance their specific, unique institutional purposes and the sense of belonging that students and teachers feel. These are now reliably measurable. The student essay is a telling measure, but as revealing as it can be, essays cannot be aggregated or averaged to evaluate a school or college. Furthermore, the prospect of an AI ChatBot reading or grading essays—or both!!!—diminishes the essay's reliability and trustworthiness as well.
A Personal Perspective
At our school, the search for a new kind of SATs started with the intuition that we were doing something powerful but not tested. We observed unique qualities in our students, such as creativity and courage, which were both age-old and undervalued in traditional educational assessments. For years we could not document this work properly: we just sensed it. When we tried the HSSSE and, later, other surveys, ranking at the top of the nation, at last we could document what we had intuitively sensed all along.
The Impact of the Pandemic
The pandemic clouded our nation’s view of academic achievement but revealed the potential of new assessments like the HSSSE, Panorama Student Survey, and Challenge Success. As we spent a year with no SAT exams, these assessments became the only normed, reliable data available, and thus, we can think of them as "a new kind of SATs."
Emphasizing Emotion and Spirituality
If there is one term I hope to never hear again, it is “noncognitive skills,” used to describe the development of student values, emotions, and physical self. Often described as the heart-brain connection, emotional and spiritual qualities are forms of cognition just as analytical skills are. Ongoing messaging between the heart and the brain is multifaceted, involving complex neural, hormonal, and biochemical pathways. We need to measure and treasure these aspects of student growth.
There will always be some who question whether aspects like spirituality and emotional growth can be accurately measured and ranked, or if they should be part of formal educational assessment at all. Those critics would seem unconcerned with the interconnectedness of intellectual, emotional, and spiritual growth. If we rank academic skills like algebra and writing, we must balance that by ranking social, physical, spiritual, and emotional development; these skills are in great need today.
Today, many schools struggle to address and measure behaviors leading to serious issues like obesity, loneliness, and myopia.  School leaders naturally feel responsible for aspiring to, producing, and marketing commonly expected outcomes such as college entry and scholastic aptitude, but doing so at the expense of the heart-brain connection hollows our schools.
Since ancient times, long before the advent of IQ and educational testing, and prior to our understanding of the division between the analytical left brain and the creative-emotional right brain, the attributes of naturalism and physical fitness have stood as essential components of human intelligence. What caused the things you do in a chair to become the primary focus of educational evaluation at the expense of the rest? What caused us to rank schools and colleges in this simplistic way? Why are students and teachers in our country today so sad and lonely? What is stopping us from change?
The era of the old SATs is coming to an end. The future belongs to assessments that recognize the full spectrum of human capacity and achievement. In a world where technology like ChatGPT can outperform students on traditional measures, it is time to teach, to test for, and to value what is most human about us. Ironically, the pandemic that exhausted us and the AI bot that we fear are the reset buttons that needed hitting. Someday, asking about a school's normed scholastic achievement test scores without asking for normed SEL scores will be unheard of. We are already there if we commit to that, embracing a future that celebrates learning for its intrinsic purpose and recognizing the unfolding journey of finding one's place in this exhilarating world.
 Obesity and high myopia in children and adolescents: Korea National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, National Library of Medicine, March 25, 2022
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