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ETS Says New Assessment Tool Should Boost Minority Enrollment in Graduate Schools

A new product launched by the Educational Testing Service (ETS) in July will help increase graduate school minority enrollment, according to officials with the Princeton, N.J.-based nonprofit testing and educational research organization.

The Personal Potential Index (PPI) will “compliment” recommendation letters from professors and the required Graduate Record Examinations in allowing students to ask their professors and supervisors to rate them among six traits: knowledge and creativity, teamwork, communication skills, resilience, planning and organization and ethics and integrity.

ETS produces, administers and scores tests for thousands of colleges and universities nationwide and internationally.

According to the Council of Graduate Schools in Washington, D.C., an estimated 360,000 Black, Latino, Native American and Asian-American graduate students were enrolled in the Fall 2007, compared with 916,369 White students.

“One reason [for fewer minorities in graduate school] is there is a well-known standardized test gap among minority and ethnic groups,” said Educational Testing Service research director Patrick Kyllonen. “When we include the standardized tests and the PPI in admissions decisions, it will make a fairer system and integrate more people in graduate school.”

Kyllonen said recommendation letters from a professor help minority applicants, but specific attributes aren’t always mentioned.

“We ask specifically [in the PPI] about resilience. A faculty member may not mention that in the letter,” he said. “Each recommendation can read the same, but the evaluations with the PPI will be different for each student.”

ETS Vice President and Chief Operating Officer David G. Payne reiterated the index is a recommendation and not a requirement for students to use.

“Grade point average and GRE [scores are] important and sufficient, but when you pair them with the PPI, it makes them more comparable and efficient,” Payne said. “It makes graduate schools more diverse as well.”

Here’s how the PPI works:

Up to five professors and  employers link onto a Web site to rate a student on skills under the six personal dimensions with statements such as “produces novel ideas,” “organizes writing well” and “demonstrates sincerity.” Each student is ranked on a scale of 1 “below average” to 5 “truly exceptional.”

The index, which can include written comments from the evaluators, is free for students who take the $150 GRE test.

ETS officials said the index should take no longer than 15 minutes to complete.

Payne said officials normally write dozens of recommendation letters for students applying to more than one graduate school. But only one index report is needed to send to various graduate schools, he said.

According to an ETS report, up to 10 years of research was done studying and analyzing how the noncognitive skills listed on the PPI are vital to a student’s success.

Some school officials have said test scores should not be the only factor in assessing a student’s ability to enroll in graduate school.

Michael Sullivan, an administrator and executive director for science, technology and mathematics at Arizona State University and PPI supporter, said tests don’t paint a complete picture of a student. ASU conducted a study in the 1990s that Mexican American and Puerto Rican students, who had limited English language skills, ranked poorly on the timed GRE tests. However, Sullivan said, those students who took the same test written in Spanish ranked in the top percentile.

“The GRE is a slice of time. To some extent it is how prepared [students] are at that moment to how they are being assessed to succeed in graduate school,” Sullivan said. “Somebody with high scores and is low in being persistent, may fail. You need to look at the whole package and weight the pieces accurately. Those personal qualities are very important and the PPI showcases them.”

Some schools mirror the PPI in requesting similar information on its applications.

The University of Minnesota redesigned its application process last summer asking perspective students for information such as parents’ educational background, undergraduate research and leadership qualities.

“We are depending on the numbers [of GPA and test scores] and it has not proved minority enrollment has increased, so this is another way of looking to make a college more diverse,” said Patricia Jones Whyte, acting director at Minnesota’s graduate school diversity office.

Jones Whyte said a memo about the index was sent to officials in the 150 graduate school programs. However, “the PPI is probably of less value because of the information we already collect is in the PPI. The PPI is good for schools [that] need this tool.”

Some school officials found out about the PPI after a reporter e-mailed them a link to the ETS Web site.

“I think ETS will probably need to do some outrearch on this,” said Carlos Holmes, spokesman for Delaware State University. “We would like more information on this program.”

The index has been documented in various newspapers and is featured on  ETSs Web site – That site includes a section for applicants, a one-hour webinar and a sample of the index.

ETS spokesman Mark McNutt said a marketing plan is in the works to ensure all graduate schools are informed about the product.

“Sometimes people miss things,” he said. “I would be surprised if by the fall graduate schools have not heard of the PPI.”

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