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From the Quad

Predicting Student Success: A Q&A with Heather Hoerle – Part II

Meet Heather Hoerle, whose career of more than 20 years has made her an expert on trends in independent school admissions and education. While at the National Association of Independent Schools, Heather built annual conferences to serve 17,000 independent school leaders. In 2011 she became Executive Director of the Secondary School Admission Test Board, which designs the test commonly known as the SSAT.

This is the second installment of Heather's guest interview. In this issue we focus on how educational trends are influencing predictors of student success.

What does it mean to be a 21st century student? In recent years, I have observed a trend in independent schools in which the focus is moving away from teachers being at the center of the classroom and more toward children as independent learners. Our society will continue to see rapid change, so it is difficult to plan for long-term content. What is increasingly important is teaching students about how to acquire knowledge. Teachers are still highly active, but are exploring methods to teach flexibility, creativity, and critical thinking.

How will these trends affect testing as a predictor of student success? Common measures of cognitive ability, like the SSAT, will always be needed in a selective admission process. But, the SSAT does not measure noncognitive qualities, such as creativity and motivation. People often call these "soft skills," but they are critical to success. These kinds of qualities have long been used in the adult world in career settings, and are now being brought into the world of students.

What is the current status of new assessments? SSATB recently hired a new Chief Testing and Research Officer, who is keenly focused on ensuring that the SSAT remains relevant for our member schools. The SSATB is also in the second year of convening a "Think Tank" group to explore new ways to assess the talents students bring besides academic proficiency. We recently published a report on innovative ways in which admission officers are evaluating candidates for curiosity, self-control, problem-solving, self-efficacy, motivation, and other attributes. This is the first step toward creating a common assessment tool for such traits in the future.

How do these trends relate to choosing schools? Being in a productive and appropriate educational environment is important to helping students tap into their full aptitude. The SSATB believes that the principles of the Independent Educational Consultants Association align well with our goal of ethical and professional work with families in the admission (and testing) process. IECA emphasizes finding a great match between students and schools, rather than just "getting in." Beginning in 2015, all SSATB members who are educational consultants will have a professional level membership in the IECA.

Where does technology fit in? We've seen some of the brilliant things that technology can enable us to do, particularly in the realm of customizing education for students. It also gives us abilities to track how children grow. In general, our world has moved out of the "Information Age" into what people are calling the "Conceptual Age," which is encouraging a lot of experimentation by independent schools, including new teaching techniques and uses of technology. It is a brave new world and it is exciting to be a part of it.

Look for the first installment of this interview in our previous issue, where Heather Hoerle focused on questions parents commonly have about the SSAT.