Page images
PDF
EPUB

carefulness of the coaching or the diligence of the candidate's cram. As a matter of fact, in 150 cases of repeated examinations, the two marks from the same student show a median difference of over 22 (the scale of marking being the common one of 100 down to o). The differences between the earlier and later marks of one student are greater than the difference between the marks of different students chosen at random.

Moreover, the marks on which a student is admitted are not so good a test of his fitness to do the work of the college as the marks of his first trials. If the students are ranked by their first trials of the examinations, the order corresponds much more closely to their order of achievement in college than when they are ranked by their official entrance marks.

Where there are several examinations in one general subject, such as Latin, the different marks of the same individual in the one subject vary in such eccentric ways that an individual who is marked the lowest of twenty in one is at times marked the highest of twenty in the other. The average range of difference of an individual's separate marks in Latin in the entering class of 1902 was over 26!

The general inadequacy of the entrance examinations from which the colleges suffer is not so important as their enormous individual inaccuracies, from which individual students suffer.

The entrance marks often utterly misrepresent the fitness of a student for college work. For instance, there were 10 men out of the 130 who in their junior year got A (the highest mark given) in at least five studies. Their average marks at entrance were in some cases in the lowest tenth of the 130, barely above the passing mark. Had the passing mark been set the least bit higher, one of the very best students of the three college classes would have been debarred from entrance. There is every reason to believe that of those students who did yet worse in the entrance examinations and so were shut out, a fairly large percentage would have done better in college than a third of those who were admitted. Sooner or later there will be some one so barred out who would, if admitted, have been the best man in his class. It is a moral atrocity to decide the fitness of an individual for college by a system which, when required to work to a moderate degree of accuracy, is wrong 47 times out of 50!

From many facts such as these, which the scientific reader can find in the tables given as an appendix, it is certain that the traditional entrance examinations, even when as fully safeguarded as in the case of those given by the College Entrance Examination Board, do not prevent incompetence from getting into college; do not prevent students of excellent promise from being discouraged, improperly conditioned or barred out altogether; do not measure fitness for college well enough to earn the respect of students or teachers, and do intolerable injustice to individuals. There is surely room for improvement.

It is unprofitable to seek a remedy in any modification of the examinations along conventional lines. Doubtless, more elaborate examinations, the employment of more readers and the like might alleviate the chief evil somewhat, but evolution in this direction is along the line of greatest resistance. It is conceivable that some of the colleges that maintain independent examinations for entrance may secure better results, tho I should expect them to be worse. I wished to study the records of 200 Harvard students in connection with the 253 Columbia records, but did not succeed in obtaining President Eliot's permission to examine the records.

The usual certificating systems are not entirely suitable to the purposes of Eastern colleges. The geographical distribution of the secondary schools which send students to, say, Amherst or Princeton makes the direct examination of schools exceedingly burdensome; the possibility that colleges might compete for the support of important secondary schools is distasteful; the attempt to introduce certification generally would probably result in a return to chaotic individualism.

Moreover, there is one fundamental weakness in both systems as practiced; in intent and in execution effort is directed solely toward keeping unfit students out rather than toward getting desirable students in. Both systems are connected partly as cause and partly as effect, with a shortsighted neglect of the fact that, for the good of the social organism (and, for

[ocr errors]

that matter, of the college, too), it is more important to give advanced education to one boy who most needs it, can profit most by it, and use it in the world's service than to prevent from entering upon it a hundred boys who are not able to measure up to its demands. Letting incompetents into college is, perhaps, poor economy, altho in a well-regulated college they do not stay long, or do more harm than they get good. But to make a college education an impossibility for the really capable boy, in whose case the education is an investment by society that will yield from a hundred to ten thousand per cent., is criminal.

My suggestion for the future development of the College Entrance Examination Board aims at securing a system that is, first of all, a positive force selecting for continued education those who deserve it; a system that will, in the second place, coöperate with secondary schools in their endeavors to improve the conditions and quality of secondary school work; a system also that will, tho rigorous, still be just; a system that will be rational and measure directly fitness for college, not the mere opinion of inspectors or the length and assiduity of study, or the ingenious art of parading knowledge in a form to beguile examiners; finally, a system that will be a natural development of existing arrangements and will make full use of the admirable organization furnished by the Middle States board.

It is, in brief, that the colleges which now intrust to the board the function of examining students, intrust to it also the function of crediting schools on the basis in each case of an examination of the actual success in college of the candidates indorsed by that school.

Suppose, for instance, that to the board was given authority to accredit any school whose graduates already in college had, in nine cases out of ten, done satisfactory work in their studies and been desirable members of the college community. Such an accredited school would be privileged to certify a student

“ fit for college ” and to certify further to what extent he had done the particular kinds of preparatory work required for the various units of the board's schedule. The new work of the board would be to obtain annually, or less often, records

as

from the different colleges of their students classified as Satisfactory or Unsatisfactory. These records the board would sort out in accordance with its lists of secondary schools and their indorsed graduates. Some hours' computation of percentages would complete the work. The work of college admission committees would be to treat the certificates from accredited schools precisely as they now treat the certificates of the College Entrance Examination Board. The work of the accredited school would be to secure and fill out the general certificates of fitness for college and the special certificate of having taken courses qualified to fulfill such and such particular admission specifications. Students not certificated by their schools and students from schools not accredited by the board would be examined as now.

We would have, that is, neither of the conventional admission systems, but a rigorous, continuous, and absolutely impartial examination of each school on the basis of its actual work in furnishing candidates who demonstrated their fitness for college by their work in college.

Such a system would encourage boys and girls who were in the truest sense fit for college to go there, for the fundamental certificate would be the outcome, not of a complex computation of what particular species of disciplines the pupil had undergone, but of the judgment of the teachers who knew him best that he was really fit for college. The award of this general certificate would encourage many students of first-rate capacity and promise who lacked some of the particular preparation demanded by a college to proceed to secure it. A college education would become less the consequence of early parental decision and more the consequence of demonstrated capacity. The award of the general certificate would also encourage the colleges to admit on probation a student of excellent promise who, by some accident of fortune, had not taken the college preparatory course in high school; for they could then do so without elaborate special legislation and without incurring the reproach of lowering standards. The standard of capacity would, in such cases, be as high as ever and as high as anywhere.

Such a system would improve the work of the secondary schools by setting a higher standard of attainment and at the same time abandoning prescriptive interference. The main duty of the high schools is to train boys and girls to be capable and intelligent men and women. They and the public which supports them are willing to accept also the responsibility of fitting for college the small minority of their students who will go on to an academic degree; but they ought not to be asked to fit students primarily for an arbitrary set of examinations. With such a task, they cannot be expected to resist the temptation to give up a large part of the last two years to specific coaching for the process of examination-taking. The proportion of college students who go on to professional courses is far greater than the proportion of high school students who go on to a college course, yet the colleges would think it an insane arrangement if they had to fit students for elaborate and arbitrary examinations in physiology, chemistry, bacteriology, and the like, or in the psychology of religion, ecclesiastical history, church law, and Hebrew. The examination disease can be eliminated, and with an actual raising of standards, if a school's fitness to prepare for college is measured by the actual fitness of the students it prepares.

Such a method of accrediting is obviously just to schools. Now that a perfectly trustworthy body exists to receive reports from all colleges, no school can complain if it is denied credit until the records of its graduates improve. It is also just to individuals, so far as any system which the colleges would be willing to operate can be. Occasionally an able candidate who happens to have gone to an inefficient school or to have been misjudged by his teachers, will have to run the risk of proving his ability by the unfair test of arbitrary examinations, but at present every able candidate has to run this risk. Occasionally, an able candidate will be held back a year longer than he ought by over-cautious teachers, but a few years will demonstrate to those high school teachers who do not already know it that success in college is dependent on capacity ten times as much as upon mere amount of high school training, and they will soon abandon the false notion that they can maintain the credit of

« PreviousContinue »