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Research Roundup: Meaningless Test Scores; Lucrative Patents Elude Female Scientists; Private Schools Really Are Better

Students Can’t be Classified Based on Test Scores

New research from Michigan State University suggests that while test scores and GPAs are useful, they have limited value in predicting leadership skills, close interpersonal relationships and a sound sense of ethics. Researchers also claim the disproportionate focus on academic performance tends to hurt certain minority groups, such as Blacks and Hispanics.

The study, which will appear in an article in the Journal of Applied Psychology next year, indicates that a combination of factors can be used to help level the playing field when it comes to judging incoming college freshmen.

The researchers surveyed more than 2,700 freshmen at 10 colleges and universities across the United States about their overall college experience. Their responses were then grouped into five distinct categories.

The “low academic, career-oriented students” were characterized by dismal test scores and GPAs, but displayed top marks when it came to career orientation. Hispanic and Black students were four to five times more likely to be members of this cluster than were Asian or White students. Also, women were twice as likely as men to be in the group.

Other groups included the “high ability, culturally limited,” the “able artistic group” and the “academically able, well-rounded group.”

The authors, including professors Neal Schmitt and Fred Oswald, say student success someday could influence a range of educational endeavors, including “the development of curricular and extracurricular programs, career counseling and training materials, and college admissions criteria.”

Women Faculty Members Apply for Patents Less than Men

Female faculty apply for research patents less than men, although the gender gap is narrowing, concludes a new study published in the Aug. 4 issue of Science magazine.

Female life scientists in higher education patent their work 60 percent less frequently than their male peers. The study suggests that women are not as exposed to the commercial sector as men are, and they worry that pursuing commercial opportunities might hold back their university careers.

“There are many studies that investigate the gender gap in other areas of attainment, such as productivity, promotions and representation in elite universities,” says study co-author Dr. Waverly Ding, an assistant professor at the University of California, Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. “But there was little being said about the gender gap in commercialization of a faculty member’s discoveries.”

The study focused on patenting because of its increasing commercial importance. When research is patented and subsequently licensed by firms, it can generate royalties for a faculty member, Ding says.

Based on a random sample of 4,227 life scientists over a 30-year period, Ding and her colleagues found that 5.6 percent of women patented their work while 13 percent of men did so.

But subsequent qualitative interviews with younger female scientists showed signs that the gender gap was narrowing. Younger women faculty members had institutional support and peer support from their colleagues.

“Young female faculty are similar to their male colleagues: They view patents as accomplishments and as a legitimate means to disseminate research,” the authors conclude. “If this trend continues, we may observe further declines in the magnitude of the gender gap in commercializing academic research.”

Harvard Researchers Identify Private School Advantage


Two researchers at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government say private schools have a distinct advantage over public schools, refuting a recent U.S. Department of Education study.

The researchers re-analyzed data the Department of Education study used to declare parity between public and private schools, after adjusting for the socioeconomic characteristics of students. But Harvard researchers adjusted for students’ backgrounds in a different way, which they consider to be more accurate, resulting in different findings.  

Drs. Paul Peterson and Elena Llaudet found a private school advantage in 11 out of 12 public-private comparisons, which included an evaluation of students’ performance in reading and math at various grade levels. The original study, released by the Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics, used information from a nationwide sample of public and private school students collected in 2003 as part of the ongoing National Assessment of Educational Progress.

 â€śOur results are not offered as conclusive evidence that private schools outperform public schools, but as a demonstration of the dependence of the NCES results on a questionable methodology,” Llaudet says.

— By Shilpa Banerji


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