Tuesday, August 16, 2016

August PCACAC Case Study - Guidance for School Profiles

As part of the PCACAC AP Committee’s desire to proactively discuss ethics, we will be sending out monthly “case studies.” In these cases, we will offer a situation and discuss whether the issue is in compliance with NACAC’s Statement of Principles of Good Practices (SPGP). The basis for this month’s case was submitted anonymously by a PCACAC member. All questions and allegations are treated as confidential; therefore, this case has been adapted to protect the identity of the professional who called seeking advice. If you have a question about a situation or SPGP, please contact a member of the AP Committee.

August Case:   The Director of Counseling at Prepared Institute, a regional magnet program, is meeting with the Director of Recruitment and Director of Communication to discuss updating the school profile. Even though it is a counseling office publication with the primary audience being college admission offices, the Recruitment Office uses the profile to attract students and the Communications Office supplies it to the School Board and other interested groups. The counselor has run the numbers and plans to simply update the class statistics. However, in the meeting, the other Directors ask, “Can we drop out some ‘special groups’ of students from the averages-- test scores, grade distribution, college list, etc. As you know, we have some populations—athletes, international students, etc.-- here and do not think they represent our typical students.” At first, the counselor feels that not including all students might be disingenuous; but, upon further consideration, thinks that “finessing” the statistics might actually help future applicants to college as well as to recruit future families. The counselor is torn about what to do and has called the AP Committee to ask for advice.
Does the NACAC SPGP provide guidance in this situation?

Discussion:  Over the past few years, the media reported on several colleges where the student profile had incorrect statistics—ranging from deflated admission rates to inflated test scores. But, the pressure to make a profile look better is not just directed at college admission offices; counseling offices and independent counselors might feel pressure to “finesse” their statistics for various reasons.
Luckily, as a professional organization, NACAC provides direction for such ethical quandaries. In this situation, there are two pertinent SPGP sections that can help the counselor determine how she might proceed. The more direct statement addresses test scores. According to SPGP Mandatory Practice III B 7, “All counseling members will report on all students within a distinct class (freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior) and subgroups, including non-native speakers, in the reporting of standardized test scores.”

Furthermore, Mandatory SPGP Mandatory Practice III B 1 states, “All counseling members agree that they will provide colleges and universities with a description of the school’s marking system, if available, that will provide some indication of grade distribution that may include the rank in class and/or grade point average.” Dropping select students from the profile may affect the rank in class and/or grade distribution (if reported) for a school.

While this case relates to a school profile, NACAC’s SPGP provides similar guidance to post-secondary professionals, too.  According to NACAC’s SPGP Mandatory Practice II B 11, “All postsecondary members agree they will initially report on all first-year admitted or enrolled students, including subgroups in the reporting of test scores. If data on subgroup populations are also provided, clear explanations of who is included in the subgroup population will be made.” Furthermore, in the Interpretations Section, the SPGP expands, “a. Postsecondary members will furnish data describing the currently enrolled freshman class and will describe in published profiles all members of the enrolling freshman class; b. subgroups within the profile may be presented separately because of their unique character or special circumstances.”

Conclusion: So what can the counselor do? She could use the SPGP as a guiding document to discuss the issues with her colleagues. Many people think of contacting the Admissions Practices Committee when they encounter a violation. However, the Committee’s purpose includes serving as an educational resource. The counselor could contact the AP Committee to discuss the proposed situation and possible SPGP issues. Such conversations, similar to complaints, are treated confidentially by the AP Committee.  Not only could the AP Committee be a sounding board for the issues, the Committee could support the counselor by providing additional resources (for example, copies of the SPGP or in-office training) for the counselor to provide her colleagues.

If you wish to file a complaint, please complete a NACAC Confidential Complaint form. All personal information will be kept confidential, but the information will be forwarded to the appropriate affiliate AP committee. This committee will follow up on the issue.

Want to review previous case studies?
View all of the Admissions Practices Case Studies on The Anchor here.

Want to submit a case for consideration? Please e-mail the PCACAC AP Committee Chair at jtalmage@stpaulsschool.org