“Holisitic admissions” and the elimination of standardized tests for graduate school

August 3, 2022 • 11:00 am

The article below in Science by chemist Anna Mapp (now Associate Dean for Academic Programs and Initiatives at the University of Michigan) is part of the drive to create a “fairer” process in admitting students to science graduate-school programs. This is to be accomplished, argues Mapp, by eliminating the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) as a required test for admission to graduate school.  (Colleges and grad schools are eliminating standardized tests left and right, despite the recommendations of committees, like one at Berkeley, to keep them as part of an admissions process.)

As Mapp’s title implies, the purpose of eliminating such tests is to achieve equity (i.e., proportional representation of all genders and ethnic groups in grad schools). And indeed, given that the elimination of standardized testing as a criterion for admission will create more equity, she may be right. (Schools vary on how much weight they put on GREs). The question is whether graduate schools, in the face of comparatively poor performance of many minority students on such tests, should be eliminating them as a form of social engineering.

As I’ve said, while I favor some form of affirmative action up to the point of hiring a faculty member, and that includes graduate admissions, I am still conflicted about it; it’s one of the few social issues that I can argue either way on, and I have no concrete solutions.  My real solution, as I’ve said before, is to fix the pipeline entrance: that is, to assure everyone of equal opportunity from birth. Right now we have neither the will nor the funds to do that. All we can do is try to fix outcomes, and that itself is problematic.

From Mapp’s article we learn what we already knew:

  1. Science journals are now promoting the achievement of equity almost as much as they’re promoting the production of good science, even if the two goals conflict.
  2. “Holistic admissions”, favored by Mapp and others, sound good, but really means “admissions that ensure equity”. In fact, grad schools, as I know well, already practice holistic admissions. In biology, for instance, we look not only at standardized test scores, but also grades and letters of admission, previous research accomplishments, and the students’ statements, as well as personal interviews. There is no cutoff for GREs. GREs are probably one of the most unimportant factors we’ve considered.
  3. Never underestimate the ability of social-justice academics to burnish their drive for equity by making assertions that have no empirical support.

Click to read:

The GREs, which comprise a verbal and a quantitative test (there are also subject tests in chemistry, physics, psychology and mathematics) are described in Wikipedia this way:

According to ETS [Educational Testing Service], the GRE aims to measure verbal reasoningquantitative reasoning, analytical writing, and critical thinking skills that have been acquired over a long period of learning. The content of the GRE consists of certain specific algebra, geometry, arithmetic, and vocabulary sections. The GRE General Test is offered as a computer-based exam administered at testing centers and institution owned or authorized by Prometric. In the graduate school admissions process, the level of emphasis that is placed upon GRE scores varies widely between schools and departments within schools. The importance of a GRE score can range from being a mere admission formality to an important selection factor.

Until 2011, the scores ranged between 200-800, but have now been compressed to a 130-170 score for the main two tests. (Subject tests are graded between 200-990). To see the performance of different sexes and ethnic groups on the test, you can consult earlier results from 2001-2002 here, and updated and compressed-range statistics from 2016 here. In general, comparing men and women among all groups, women have a slight advantage in the verbal section while men have a slight advantage in the quantitative section. I don’t know the standard deviations, but certainly men and woman score equally in verbal skills, and the difference isn’t large in quantitative skills.

A bigger difference is seen among ethnic groups; here are the data from 2016:

Those differences aren’t that large—though they’re more obvious if you look at the 200-800 point era—but remember that these are averages. What schools are worried about are the average GRE schools of students who get admitted, which clearly shows the degree of affirmative action, at least in terms of standardized tests.

Do GRE scores correlate with “success” in graduate school? An analysis that I think is pretty objective says yes, but weakly. The problem is that ‘success’ is almost always measured in terms of whether or not you get a Ph.D., not how well you do as a scientist.

Taken as a whole, the evidence suggests that there is some correlation between GRE scores and graduate achievement. But there is widespread disagreement about the degree of correlation. The Educational Testing Service, which funds a considerable amount of research into the validity of the GRE, asserts only that “GRE General Test scores tend to show moderate correlations with first-year [GPA] averages”(ETS 1990). It also admits that there are “critical skills associated with scholarly and professional competence that are not currently measured by graduate admissions tests” (ETS 1989).

The devil is in the details when it comes to GRE validity studies, as relevant correlations are often embedded within distinctions in the data. For instance, there is considerable amount of variability in predictive validity of GRE scores between disciplines (Braun and Jones). This can partly be explained by the fact that the GRE is actually three separate tests: analytic, verbal, and quantitative. Different disciplines demand these skills in different degrees. Thus, predictive validity tends to improve when a particular test is matched to a particular discipline.

In her article, Mapp recommends ditching the GREs because, she argues, they are used as cutoffs or major criteria for graduate-school admission, watering down the “holistic” admissions she wants (and that we already have):

Earlier this year, the University of Michigan became the first US university to remove the requirement that applicants to its nonprofessional doctoral programs take a standardized test—the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). This decision will not, on its own, address inequities in admissions practice, nor the broader education barriers that many applicants face. But it is a major step toward an admissions process that considers all dimensions of a candidate’s preparation and promise—a holistic view that should be adopted by all universities if equity in education and opportunities is to be achieved.

 

The stated goal of the GRE general test is to assess writing skills and quantitative and verbal reasoning. Its actual value as an instrument for determining who is likely to be successful in a doctoral graduate program, however, has not been established. There is a positive correlation across disciplines between GRE scores and first-year graduate course GPA (grade point average). However, although coursework is part of obtaining foundational knowledge in a field, the central focus of a doctoral degree comprises intellectual contributions and research accomplishments (measured in many dimensions, such as publications, presentations, and patents).

But the way that graduate admissions work is already holistic: I have spent hours reading dossiers and discussing admissions in faculty meetings, and GRE, while considered, is just one of many factors used in a “holistic” way: letters of recommendation (often useless), grade-point averages (hard to compare among schools, particularly with grade inflation), and to me, the most important considerations: research experience, knowledge of the subject, and drive to study it, all assessed in the personal interviews we have with students. Because schools accept far fewer graduate than undergraduate students, they are vetted more comprehensively. So what is the point of removing the one single measure that can compare the achievements of all applicants on a single scale, especially since that score is one of many factors weighed, and not used (at least as I’ve seen, as a cutoff to eliminate minorities). Even the ETS itself recommends “holistic admissions”!:

    Regardless of the decision to be made, multiple sources of information should be used to ensure fairness and balance the limitations of any single measure of knowledge, skills, or abilities. These sources may include undergraduate grade point average, letters of recommendation, personal statement, samples of academic work, and professional experience related to proposed graduate study.

As anyone in academics knows, the drive is to accept more minorities, not eliminate them! And “holistic admissions” themselves can be dicey: remember that Harvard University seems to have deliberately downgraded the “personality scores” of Asian and Asian-American applicants (without meeting them!), apparently to reduce the proportion of Asian students in their class.

But Mapp implies otherwise—people are still plotting to do down minorities.

Once applications have arrived for review by a doctoral admissions committee, use of the GRE can lead to additional loss of talented applicants. Despite recommendations that GRE scores only be used in the context of an overall evaluation of an applicant, in practice they can readily be employed—implicitly or explicitly—as cutoffs for further consideration of an application. This is an especially problematic practice given that GRE scores consistently correlate with the sex, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, and race of the test taker.

So do grade point averages, by the way! But to claim that GRE scores are employed as a tool to get rid of minority applicants is nonsense, and Mapp gives no evidence for this. I’ve certainly never seen it. Schools are dying to accept minority applicants; the issue, at least in STEM, is finding acceptable minority applicants. And to do that we do pay less attention to their GREs than usual, for that is a form of affirmative action—and one that I don’t oppose. But if the GRE of anyone is extraordinarily low, that does tell us something that should be weighed against an applicant.

Mapp brings up the “GREs are a tool of structural racism” later as well (my emphasis):

Discontinuing the use of the GRE in doctoral admissions is, therefore, a valuable step toward best practices to reduce the barriers—systemic and otherwise—faced by students, to decrease bias in the evaluation process, and to support admission and recruitment of outstanding student cohorts. A concern is that in the absence of the GRE score, admissions committees will rely more heavily on other aspects of a candidate’s application that—like the GRE—are strongly correlated with race, sex, and socioeconomic factors rather than talent and promise. This includes undergraduate institution ranking, prestigious internships, and performance on other standardized tests. It is for exactly this reason that frank conversations about discordance between the stated goals and values of doctoral programs and the common practices in doctoral admissions are indispensable.

If I read this correctly, she says that even if GREs are eliminated, “structural racism” will still rear its ugly head, with committees using proxies like what school the student came from, “prestigious internships” (what about just “internships”?) and so on, all as a way to block minority advancement.  I’m not sure what she’s suggesting we do here, but having a “frank conversation” is not one of them. To argue that the attainment of equity may be inimical to scientific merit, given that the two seem to be at odds and you must prioritize what you want grad-school admissions to accomplish—well, that’s a discussion that is simply taboo.

Two more points. First, Mapp argues that there’s no downside to eliminating the GREs as estimated from data:

In recent years, many individual graduate programs have removed the GRE requirement, with notable success.

What does she mean by “notable success”? If she means “increasing equity,” then yes, she’s probably right. (She doesn’t give the data.) But if she means “quality of scientific work and success of applicants after they graduate,” then I have no idea. Where are the data supporting that claim?

Finally, inequities are, says Mapp, promoted by the costs of test preparation and of taking GREs themselves:

Beyond major questions about GRE utility, there are substantive financial and opportunity costs associated with requiring the GRE: costs for applicants and costs for admissions committees. For the potential applicant, the test is expensive; registration alone has a price tag of US$205, with additional fees for score reporting. (A fee reduction is possible for qualified applicants.) Many feel pressure to enroll in expensive GRE prep courses that teach test-taking strategies and often offer money-back guarantees for competitive scores and score improvements. The GRE 162+ course offered by Princeton Review, for example, guarantees scores of at least 162 (out of 170) at a cost of US$2149.
What are the costs for admissions committees that use the GRE in admissions decisions? In short, the loss of talented applicants at every stage of the process. Students who do not have the financial means to prepare for and/or take the test will not apply. A further loss comes from potential applicants who lack access to the test, either because of the limited availability of physical testing sites or because of lack of access to wireless networks needed for online test-taking options.

Note that she adds that there are fee reductions for taking the tests (not for foreign students, though). But the GRE fees are often lower than the application fees for grad schools, which begin $100 per school—and these fees are often waived, too. Any socioeconomically deprived person who wants to take the test and apply for grad school can find an affordable way to do so. In lieu of tutoring, many simply buy GRE-prep books that have sample questions. A student who wants to go to grad school should at least have the gumption to overcome these minor barriers.  After all, one wants students who will reach out and do what they need to do, at least for these minor matters.

In the end, one has to ask “what is gained by ditching the tests?” As far as I can see, nothing, for it eliminates one piece of a holistic form of evaluation that’s already in place, and the only piece for which all students can be compared against each other. It’s been eliminated for one reason only: if GREs are used at all in admissions, and there’s no “holistic” process, this use can reduce equity. Whether you want that depends on whether you think that graduate schools should be practicing social engineering. Of course they should be reducing bias (and equal opportunity) as much as they can, but if you want to use grad school to make up for past wrongs, well, that’s a discussion that needs to be had, but the one discussion that can’t be had. (I am, however, having it here!)

And there’s one down side that’s very real, but ignored in this article. High GRE scores can help identified good candidates overlooked for other reasons, like having not done well gradewise, or who come from foreign schools where it’s hard to evaluate grades. In other words, GREs are a way to seek out for and help high outliers.

This isn’t just theoretical. I know more than one scientist whose GRE scores have helped them get into grad school, and then become successful scientists. Here’s some testimony by one person I know:

The GRE test can be particularly helpful for foreign students coming from unknown 3rd world countries with grades that do not translate to the US grade system and who submit recommendation letters from unknown people written in a style that is not the US style. As an undergraduate in South America, I had an 8/10 grade-point average and was second in my class, but that translates to only a 3.2 GPA in the US—not an impressive score.  Because my GRE was very high (94th-99th percentile), I had no trouble being admitted to 8 US graduate schools, even though my university and recommenders were unknown.  GRE scores can also help students who did not dedicate themselves in their undergraduate studies, but matured later in life.  By getting a high GRE scores, these students might be able to bypass their poor grades and be accepted in graduate programs.

31 thoughts on ““Holisitic admissions” and the elimination of standardized tests for graduate school

  1. I think that equality of opportunity is a poorly expressed ideal that should really be opportunity without discrimination. That, in my opinion, is really what we are trying to achieve. We’ve as a society talked about equality of opportunity for decades, but, given that so much of our development is in the hands of our parents, and that they are, by definition, imperfect, it is unlikely that there would be real equality of opportunity. When we talk about equality of opportunity, what we are really talking about is an infinite set of decisions about equality of outcomes. We want a child to be raised healthy, taught well, etc. (And this ignores the equity challenges of unhealthy or stupid people). In order to try and ensure all those outcomes we would require a totalitarian society, which have shown themselves unable to do this.

  2. Doesn’t the compression for test scores from 200-800 to 130-170 already erase performance distinctions?

    A friend of mine who was a high school counselor at a private school told me many years ago that the faculty had taken SAT tests they kept from decades past and compared them to present ones and the SATs from way back them were significantly more challenging than what is giving now. Anyone know about that?

    There is a massive dumbing-down, crude way to put it, that is occurring throughout intellectual life in all its aspects in Anglophone countries, perhaps elsewhere. I see it clearly in journalism and the arts.

    1. Journalism? If you mean in J Schools, as someone who teaches in one, our challenge is remedial education for our students who didn’t learn how to write or express themselves clearly in grade school. But the students who need that usually come from either inner city or rural school districts. The ones from good suburban districts are typically well prepared. And we’re not dumbing anything down for them.

      1. Read the NYTimes now and then read articles from about 30+ years ago.

        You may not be dumbing anything down….but results are dumbed down.

  3. This is one of the most absurd areas of woke theology. If testing of groups A, B, and C show that group C is consistently ill-prepared for college, what do you do? In a rational universe, you enhance preparation for Group C. In the woke universe, you throw out the test. (To give wokes some credit, there is a rational basis for the decision – it does gain you prestige within woke circle, albeit at a brutal cost for group C, since you’ve locked in a model that systematically throws them into situations ill-prepared and turns a blind eye on the pipeline problem.)

  4. Allow all

    Any and all affirmative action, quota admission, policy for fairness, becoming political …. any policy or action whatsoever ought to be legal. You can form any sort of university you wish. This results in the marketplace of ideas. Do you want to obtain a credential from an institution known for “X”? Put all higher education into the competitive arena.

    HOWEVER. Not gov. The institution of the idea “government schools” is the problem. Get government out of education. Period.

    yes, “how would that be funded”
    yes, “you’ll have racial discriminating private schools.”
    yes, “children of the lower classes will fall through the cracks.”
    I have responses to all of those. How about some other objection.

    Government schooling sets up a Legal Orthodoxy. A Coercive Worldview. This is seen in the Reading Wars that have been fought since 1845, by which the wrong form of reading pedagogy won, destroying the lives of untold children.

    1. Free and excellent public education is THE foundation of democracy.

      If it were up to me, I’d eliminate all private education – the very concept is undemocratic. There is no societal benefit to segregated education or to confining (imprisoning?) children in religious, ethnic, racial, or socioeconomic bubbles chosen by their parents. There are certainly benefits to children from differing backgrounds growing up together and going to school with one another. George Bush and I grew up in the same town geographically, but worlds apart socially. I see no reason, other than prejudice, why he didn’t go to public school with the rest of the town kids. Do you? Greenwich had very good public schools; highly thought of by college admissions. The uber wealthy should not have been allowed to boycott the town’s public schools merely because they could afford to do so. Nor should parents be able to isolate their children in religious schools, or demand racial and ethnic segregation (I would go so far as to call such isolation child abuse).

      Right wing idiocy to talk about government schools. You do realize that the government is us, don’t you. As Pogo said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Or in your case, we have met the enemy and he is you.

    2. I replied to this email, but I do not see my message. If is does not appear within the next hour, I’ll write again. This message is the epitome of ignorance, so I feel compelled to respond. I

  5. I speak from experience when it comes to graduate admissions – 10 years on the admissions committee at USF (4 as director) followed by 6 years as associate dean for undergraduate studies for the College of Arts and Sciences there, and then by four years as graduate dean at Miami University and finally five years on my department’s admissions committee before I retired at the end of 2017. This roughly 20 year period allowed me to make a number of observations regarding GRE’s, affirmative action etc. Note that both USF and Miami are public institutions.

    1. When I started, use of GRE scores as cutoffs was common. Today I suspect that that is rare.
    2. Based on my own experience as a graduate mentor (5 Ph. D. students, ca.15 masters), I came to view these scores as not particularly good predictors of individual success.
    3. As noted, graduate admissions is by its nature holistic, and it’s important to emphasize that the most important decisions are made at the departmental (i. e. disciplinary) levels. Thus, admissions criteria vary across departments – mathematical skills are considered more important in the natural sciences, while writing skills matter more in the humanities (although I wish folks in the sciences would pay more attention to them).
    4. There is a big down side to emphasizing GRE’s – their use in program ranking by entities like US News. Case in point – my elder son absolutely nailed the tests, and his scores certainly drew the attention of admissions offices in the art schools he applied to. However, my educated guess is that admissions committees paid little attention to them as predictors of his success – his portfolio was far and away the most important factor. BUT, they did help drive up GRE numbers for the school – not a great reason for requiring them.

    So my bottom line? I think the GRE’s are fading on their own, and while policies like those in the California system may hasten their demise, I think that is more a symptom of ongoing changes, not a cause. And while I refuse to predict what graduate education will look like in 20 years, I’m pretty sure that it will be vastly different than it is today, and admissions processes and standards will have to evolve to keep up. In that case, the focus should be on what we need to do in the future, not what we did in the past.

    1. Sorry, but if you think I’m defending the past because it was the past, you’re wrong. I think there needs to be something “standardized” so you can compare a panoply of diverse applicants. You apparently disagree. So be it. But saying that we should ditch GREs because US News and World Report use them to rank schools is to put the blame on the GREs, not on the magazine.

      I have NEVER seen GREs used in a cutoff, though of course I’ve only dealt with admissions in ecology and evolution. And they’re at least as predictive of future success (i.e. getting a Ph.D. as are grade point averages. Should we do away with grades as well?

      1. With all due respect, Jerry, how do you square:
        “I think there needs to be something “standardized” so you can compare a panoply of diverse applicants” with being in favour of affirmative action? Doesn’t affirmative action imply denying entry to some meritorious applicants in order to let in some who are less meritorious, but belong to a historically disfavoured group? I can see only one practical application, where a standardized test is used to disqualify, say, the lowest 10% of ‘privileged’ applicants and instead allow in an equivalent number of highest-scoring ‘oppressed’ applicants. It’s all a bit sordid when we talk about ruining or improving peoples’ education this way, but that’s what we are doing.
        I would far rather look at root causes, and if it eventually resolves into something like absent fathers, poverty or a cultural difference we feel it would be wrong or rude to try to change, then we may have to accept we are asking for something we cannot have. Equality of opportunity is something to strive for, but not necessarily attainable in the next Five Year Plan. Equality of outcome, well, you recently described how hard you worked at college. We would have to ban the clever hard workers like yourself to get there!

    2. “3. As noted, graduate admissions is by its nature holistic, and it’s important to emphasize that the most important decisions are made at the departmental (i. e. disciplinary) levels.”

      Bruce I don’t mean to contradict you, but I think this is true only for some kinds of highly competitive graduate programs that have (relatively) lots of money available to support students in research rotations after admission but before joining a research group and PI.

      At lots of other universities like mine, graduate admission is much less competitive. The most important admission decision is made by the PI (to admit or not admit an individual student to his or her research group), and the PI is immediately responsible for that student’s financial support from day 1. The graduate admissions committee endorses that decision by the PI (or occasionally rejects it, but this is rare in my experience). And those decisions are rarely dependent on GRE or other scores.

      I doubt that these less-selective programs are more diverse for lack of GRE use in admissions. But that’s a prediction of the model discussed by Dr. Mapp in the article. I would be interested to see data about that.

  6. Articles like Mapps’ are at bottom concerned with structural meritism in the STEM fields: the old-fashioned view that the accomplishment of tasks demands ability and knowledge—and that this requirement supersedes group membership criteria that are paramount for partisans of “social justice”. Proponents of the meritism view can cite certain signs of its validity, such as vaccines, laparoscopic surgery, space probes, everyone’s digital devices, the electricity grid, and so on. On the other hand, proponents of “social justice values” can point to such triumphs as the discoveries revealed in journals like “Social Text” and “Gender, Place & Culture”, and the lightning-fast spread in academia of DEI committees and officials. Once the latter becomes as universal as electricity (and we are almost there already), I guess the issue will be settled.

  7. And will that be enough?

    I find this question materializing immediately when I learn of such strong measures.

    Another thought that comes up – how _attractive_ will any school be for any type of student who savors challenge?

    The answer is – of course – “it depends”.

  8. In economics most graduate programs are dominated by foreign students. (Only the very top programs can attract the dwindling supply of mathematically capable American students.) So we rely heavily on the GRE for the comparison reasons that you emphasize. We cannot bring potential students to the US to interview. We do send faculty to some feeder schools, but that is very limited. Given the difficulty of assessing performance at undergraduate colleges you know nothing about, and letters of recommendation from people you have never heard of, we would be in serious trouble without GREs.
    Without GREs we could only admit students from schools we have prior relations with. So our net would be cast much narrower.
    Harvard, MIT and Chicago could do without GREs, but the vast majority of programs would suffer dramatically.

  9. As to expensive test prep programs — one way to mitigate the inequality would be for Universities to provide their own low-cost alternatives. Back when I had to take the GRE, my university had such a program. You could choose either the verbal or quantitative sessions, or both depending on what you thought you needed. The fee was $30.00 per session; $60.00 for both. I can’t remember how many classes were included – six weeks, 2 or 3 times per week maybe) No guarantees were offered, but I know my scores improved over what they would have been had I not taken the classes. I think it was a mistake for my school to stop offering the low cost classes. They contracted with a test prep company and costs skyrocketed to the point where most students could not afford the classes.

    For those who think it is important to use the GRE, please consider having your school provide low-cost prep classes.

    For me the problem with the GRE and tests like it is that they are designed to sort and rank – questions are tested and chosen for their ability to generate that all important bell-shaped curve. I have never seen evidence that tests of this nature accurately predict ability or potential for success. I think that is why people object to them. We know they disfavor certain groups. We do not know that individuals with higher scores are better candidates. I think the danger is that students with low scores are eliminated very quickly.

  10. There exists a fundamental assumption that different groups of people should be equally represented in all areas of society. For instance, if black people make up 14% of the US population, then 14% of doctoral candidates in physics should be black.

    On the liberal left, both the “woke” and the more moderate folks all seem to accept this assumption. The primary reason for this is that all groups of humans share the same range of abilities, so any over/under representation in something like academics must be down to external causes.

    So when groups are underrepresented, then we assume something is wrong environmentally and that we can fix it.

    For the woke, the blame is squarely on the institutions and not the members of the underrepresented group or their unique cultures, and to suggest otherwise is racist. Black students are as capable and prepared academically as any other group, so underrepresentation must be the fault of the institutions. It could be racially biased aptitude tests, or racist teachers that grade unfairly, or any variety of harms visited upon black people by the academic institutions they swim in.

    But for the more moderate liberals, there is the belief that all of the blame for underrepresentation of certain groups should not rest on the institutions. Maybe, as a group, black students aren’t as prepared as they should be for higher education in elite institutions, and further, some of the reasons for this lack of preparation may lie outside of the institutions. In this view, underrepresentation of blacks in graduate level physics may have little to do with racism in the physics department, and much more to do with downstream causes that may extend all the way back to pre-school.

    I used to subscribe firmly to this latter view, but now I find myself questioning the Fundamental Assumption that all groups should be equally represented in all areas of society. I still believe that innate ability is equally distributed among the different populations of the world. However, given the variety of subcultures and differences in what they value and how they spend their time, in addition to their historical circumstances, I no longer think it reasonable to expect equal representation among all groups in all things.

    What we should ensure is that public institutions do their utmost to eliminate racial preferences (as almost all have in the US), and they ensure maximal opportunities to whomever enters their doors, and then let the chips fall where they may. Under this view, the recent move to eliminate “tracking” (i.e. offering accelerated learning opportunities to cognitively talented students) in US primary schools in the name of “equity” is completely counterproductive. Yes, tracking may lead to overrepresentation of say East Asians in 8th grade advanced algebra, but it will also offer accelerated learning opportunities to talented black students who would otherwise never receive such an opportunity. And, we seem to be fine with the extreme overrepresentation of black students in athletics…there is no movement to eliminate athletic tracking.

  11. “As to expensive test prep programs..”

    The effectiveness of test prep, at least on tests like the ACT, SAT, or GRE, is marginal at best. Those tests really measure how much you have absorbed in your high school/secondary school years, and you can’t really make up massive deficits in those areas through some prep course. Particularly in the verbal sections…being able to comprehend complex passages is not something a 6 week prep course is going to help you with if you’ve never put the work in during high school.

  12. Yes, exams are not the problem, it’s education outcomes. As an analogy, ignoring thermometers doesn’t make climate change go away.

  13. Regarding the weak correlation between GRE scores and success in graduate school: wouldn’t it be largely due to the GRE scores under consideration being fairly high to begin with? Among NBA players, for example, differences in height may correlate but weakly with performance, but we wouldn’t conclude from that that height is a poor predictor of success in basketball.

  14. My guess is that the unstated reason to eliminate the GRE is to make it impossible to compare candidates based on the merits, particularly across racial groups. It’s not about becoming more holistic; it’s about hamstringing the ability to make comparisons against a standard.

    And what would it even mean to achieve equity across disciplines? Students themselves self-sort into disciplines. Does equity of outcomes allow for this self-sorting? Or are we truly aiming to have equal numbers of women, men, Blacks, Hispanics, Asians, and other identity groups in physics departments, biology departments, sociology departments, Judaic Studies departments, and other graduate departments? If self-selection is allowed, how would one go about determining the proper equity targets? Tell me how many students should be admitted to next year’s geology graduate program. I’m can’t help but picture a contingent of DEI administrators that is as large as the faculty itself. Ceiling Cat Help Us All!

    1. For the woke, over-representation by certain groups is ok as long as it is of the right flavor. If women or non-white males (other than Asians) were overrepresented in STEM subjects, it would not be considered a problem to solve…rather it would be considered a reason to celebrate. Women are already over-represented in higher education in general, in some places dominating by a 60/40 margin or more, and yet no one on the left seems to mind that at all.

      Therefore there is something deeper than concerns about “equity” that is driving all of this…

        1. I don’t follow your reasoning, ThyroidPlanet. Are you saying that the 60/40 preponderance of women in higher education is down to the systemic exclusion of women med school graduates from neurosurgery and orthopaedics, forcing them into undergraduate French Literature and Critical Gender Studies instead?

          Edit: medical school undergraduate enrolments themselves are also about 60:40 female now. Interpretation is complicated in that about 10% of enrolees don’t specify sex at all and another 20% call themselves non-binary.

          1. I think that’s a rhetorical question, if I follow… and indeed, that was my angle.

            so I could pick car repair – I’m not sure I could have got as accurate an idea of the male/female ratio.

  15. A 2001 meta-analysis published on Psychological Bulletin:

    A comprehensive meta-analysis of the predictive validity of the Graduate Record Examinations: Implications for graduate student selection and performance.

    Abstract
    This meta-analysis examined the validity of the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE) and undergraduate grade point average (UGPA) as predictors of graduate school performance. The study included samples from multiple disciplines, considered different criterion measures, and corrected for statistical artifacts. Data from 1,753 independent samples were included in the meta-analysis, yielding 6,589 correlations for 8 different criteria and 82,659 graduate students. The results indicated that the GRE and UGPA are generalizably valid predictors of graduate grade point average, 1st-year graduate grade point average, comprehensive examination scores, publication citation counts, and faculty ratings. GRE correlations with degree attainment and research productivity were consistently positive; however, some lower 90% credibility intervals included 0. Subject Tests tended to be better predictors than the Verbal, Quantitative, and Analytical tests.

    A 2010 meta-analysis published on Educational and Psychological Measurement:

    The Validity of the Graduate Record Examination for Master’s and Doctoral Programs: A Meta-Analytic Investigation

    Abstract
    Extensive research has examined the effectiveness of admissions tests for use in higher education. What has gone unexamined is the extent to which tests are similarly effective for predicting performance at both the master’s and doctoral levels. This study empirically synthesizes previous studies to investigate whether or not the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) predicts the performance of students in master’s programs as well as the performance of doctoral students. Across nearly 100 studies and 10,000 students, this study found that GRE scores predict first year grade point average (GPA), graduate GPA, and faculty ratings well for both master’s and doctoral students, with differences that ranged from small to zero.

  16. One obvious drawback of affirmative action is that it’s bound to induce rational, non-arbitrary discrimination or prejudice. An unfortunate side effect: people who would have been admitted through a meritocratic system are liable to experience unfair discrimination or prejudice if they belong to a group favored by affirmative action.

    Here’s Justice Clarence Thomas lamenting the consequences of affirmative action during his student years at Yale “You had to prove yourself every day because the presumption was that you were dumb and didn’t deserve to be there on merit.”

    Affirmative action programs claim that the bar is never lowered below the level necessary to succeed. Even if true, that’s largely irrelevant: in highly cognitive-demanding professions the more talented the person the more likely he/she’s to perform at a higher level. If I know nothing about a group of surgeons of different races, from whom I must pick one to conduct a critical and difficult operation on me, the rational choice would be to pick an Asian one. If affirmative action didn’t exist, however, the race of the surgeons would be utterly irrelevant.

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