From Sternberg, a new take on what makes kids Tufts-worthy
Sternberg looks to increase role of creative, practical skills
Published: Tuesday, November 15, 2005
Updated: Sunday, August 17, 2008 14:08
Students applying to become members of Tufts' Class of 2011 may be asked to fill in the empty speech bubbles of a cartoon or write a creative story in addition to providing their SAT scores.
Dean of Arts and Sciences Robert Sternberg, until recently a professor of psychology at Yale, said he believes there are three kinds of intelligences: creative, analytical and practical. He is currently working with the Office of Admissions to incorporate the evaluation of all three of these skills into admissions standards.
"I feel, as do many people, that the SAT is incomplete as a measure of academic skills, and even more as a measure of life skills," Sternberg said.
He said the tests used today to determine intelligence and skills are very similar to the ones used a century ago. "If biology or physics were the same as they were 100 years ago, people would say that progress was stalled," he said.
The SATs do measure analytical skills, Sternberg said, but he also believes creative and practical skills are important.
He defines creative skill as being able to come up with new ideas.
"In today's world, you really can't survive without creative skills," he said. Without creative skills, he said, Apple would still be on the Apple II, and there would be no iPods.
He added that creative skills are necessary not only in business, but in life.
"Relationships get stale unless you come up with new ideas to keep them fresh," he said. "I'm not talking about creative in the sense of Einstein or Picasso, but in a more everyday sense."
Practical skill is the ability to make ideas work.
"You can get a 100 percent on a written driver's test, but that doesn't mean you can drive," Sternberg said.
Sternberg proposes to incorporate these factors into admissions decisions. "I think Tufts can become the national leader in enlightened admissions policies," he said.
This could be accomplished by changes to the application, the interview and recommendations. Students might be asked to write a creative story as an essay. During an interview, they could be asked to solve a practical problem. And on recommendation forms, teachers would be asked to evaluate the students' creative and practical skills, as well as traditional analytical ones.
Dean of Admissions Lee Coffin said that though these changes are still in the early planning stage, he thought it would be likely that some changes will be made by the time the Class of 2011 is ready to apply. While Tufts could potentially leave the Common Application behind, he said that more likely, "we'd really redesign the Tufts supplement that we ask students to complete."
Coffin said he welcomes Sternberg's ideas because "the more data we collect, the better our decisions will be."
The Office of Admissions has been trying to look at more subjective criteria for the past few years, "and in that spirit, Dean Sternberg's research really matches what we've already started to do," Coffin said.
This year, he said, Tufts has added a series of optional questions to its supplement, "including one that asks, 'Who are you?' - 'Do you have a tattoo?' 'Are you vegetarian?' 'Do you hate flip-flops?'"
"What Sternberg's research does," Coffin said, "is present more concrete opportunities to gauge [these other skills]. If we want to prompt a creative response, maybe we'll add a cartoon and have students provide a caption."
While he was still at Yale, Sternberg was a member of a team that conducted the Rainbow Study, which devised tests of creative and practical thinking and tested them on students. The study found that using such tests doubled the accuracy of predictions of students' grades in college. It also reduced the gap between ethnic groups.
The Rainbow Study showed that "you can admit a more diverse group of students and simultaneously increase academic excellence," Sternberg said.
Many individuals ask about how expanding admissions criteria would affect Tufts' averages - such as the average SAT score for students - and school rankings - like those found in U.S. News & World Report, Coffin said. He said he does not expect these to be affected.
"The analytical piece will still be there, and it won't change - it offers us important evidence about who can do the work," he said. "This will help us to sort the pool in different ways among students who are already academically qualified."
Instead of changing the academic pool, he said, it would probably affect the way students approached the application.
Along with changing admissions criteria, Sternberg wants to teach professors about the diverse styles of learning students have and how to best teach them.
Sternberg would like to use the Center for the Psychology of Abilities, Competencies and Expertise (PACE Center) - started by Sternberg at Yale but which will be relocated to Tufts in July 2006.
Dr. Linda Jarvin will become deputy director of the new PACE center. She said the PACE Center had already done a great deal of teacher training work based on Sternberg's theory of successful intelligence.
"We'd be thrilled to work with Tufts faculty to explain the methodology," she said. The PACE Center might hold "professional development seminars" or assist with curriculum development, explaining how professors can "tweak them to address a greater range of student abilities and styles."
Jarvin said the PACE Center expects to "work very closely with other departments at Tufts - we've already started having meetings with colleagues in education, psychology, engineering and child development."