This release builds upon extensive research by our Think Tank on the Future of Assessment, collaboration with numerous independent school enrollment leaders, and statistical analysis performed by both The Enrollment Management Association (EMA) and the Educational Testing Service (ETS). Field trials of the assessment were conducted over the past two years, with more than 12,000 students completing the assessment. Additionally, user testing was conducted with parents to gain feedback on the design and content elements of the score report, as well as the assessment itself.
While character education is a hallmark of an independent school education and is a salient piece of every school’s mission, gaining insight into an applying student’s current character skill development has been largely a matter of intuition and an investigative screening of the application. While many schools assess character in some way (e.g., via student interviews, teacher recommendations), reliance on unstandardized or inconsistent forms of character skills measurement highlights the need for a standardized and empirically supported approach.
The Enrollment Management Association’s (EMA) newest member offering, The Character Skills Snapshot, is nothing short of revolutionary in its ability to provide a picture of a child’s character skill development at a single point in time, providing admission offices with a clear view of how a child sees him- or herself, as well as those areas in which a school’s pedagogy can both assist in the evolution of a child’s emerging skills and take advantage of current strengths.
Based on recommendations from the Think Tank, we felt very strongly that member schools should be closely involved in the development of a new character assessment for admission. A character assessment working group (“G32Plus”), composed of member schools from a variety of school types and locations, was formed to advise and develop the new assessment. The group’s first task was to help EMA and the Educational Testing Service (ETS) settle on which character skills to measure.
A first group summit provided participating members the opportunity to identify, vote on, and ultimately select the initial set of character skills that were going to be assessed in the Character Skills Assessment (the tool’s initial moniker) item pretest. An item pretest was then conducted with over 1,400 students, collecting responses to Likert-type items that were written to measure the skills. A Likert-type item presents a statement (e.g., “I work hard”) and allows respondents to select an option on a scale (e.g., strongly disagree to strongly agree). The results of this pretest suggested we were measuring seven distinct character skills instead of twelve. A forced-choice assessment was then developed with the items retained from the pretest to measure the new set of character skills, namely: intellectual engagement, teamwork, initiative, self-control, resilience, and open-mindedness.
The Final Skill
A final skill was deemed to be important for inclusion in The Snapshot. With guidance from The EMA and ETS, 35 teachers from member schools constructed situational judgment questions that are now included in The Snapshot. Situational judgment items present a scenario that usually describes a potential point of conflict between two or more people (e.g., a group of students, a student and a teacher, or a student and a parent). Each of these scenarios is associated with four possible ways of reacting to the situation, and the respondent is expected to evaluate the appropriateness of each of this reactions. These items were designed to measure one additional skill: social awareness.
Pilot Testing and Validity
There were two large pilots of the forced-choice and situational judgment items. The first was called the Beta Test and was administered to over 6,000 students. It provided an opportunity to evaluate the construct validity of all potential forced-choice and situational judgment items. Results from this pilot allowed The EMA to identify sets of situational judgment items for use in assessment forms and provided important information about the validity of the forced-choice assessment. Based on preliminary validity evidence from this pilot, the forced-choice assessment does measure the intended constructs, and this measurement is consistent for various subgroups by gender, ethnicity, English language status, and grade level.
The second pilot was the Field Trial, which was administered to more than 4,000 students. This was the formal test of the assessment form(s) that would be included in this first operational year of The Snapshot. Based on evidence from this pilot, the situational judgment forms that were created using data from previous pilot demonstrated stable measurement – that is, the forms are measuring the same things and are functionally the same even though the items are different -- as intended. Results also revealed impressive consistency in scores (i.e., score reliability) on the forced-choice assessment over one year (from beta test to field trial) for students that took the assessment both times.
Want to learn more? Read about character assessment and admission and the development of The Snapshot on this NAIS page, authored by Dr. David Holmes, cofounder and codirector of the Institute on Character and Admission, including a podcast with the EMA's Meghan Brenneman, Ed.D.