The Arizona Desert Lamp

‘Smartest Class Ever’ hits the front page

Posted in Campus, Education Policy by Evan Lisull on 31 August 2009

Now, your author has done a lot of crazy things with a Dos Equis bottle in hand. But never – except for that one time – has he managed to break into the Wildcat office, turn a snarky post into a page 1 story, and get it to the copy-editors – all on a Sunday night!

We can’t get too miffed if Wilbur-come-lately is finding inspiration in our inchoate utterances – after all, information wants to be free. If Radley Balko is having trouble getting his propers, then we’re way down on the list. Plus, they gots more data – and quotes!

Basically, though, the song remains the same – the class of 2013 is pretty unremarkable in the scheme of things. In addition to GPA and SAT non-records, the Wildcat piece also points out that the UA achieved non-records in National Merit scholars and diversity.

The diversity point bears emphasis, considering the official definition of “diversity” from the school:

Numbers from the Fact Book indicate that this freshman class — which has about 7,000 students, according to the UANews press release — is indeed the largest ever. However, freshman diversity, measured as the percentage of the class that identifies as anything other than “White non-Hispanic,” is not record-breaking, contrary to statements in the release.

So all that talk about different viewpoints, ideas, and cultures? Absolute hogwash – actual diversity pales in contrast to statistical diversity, where the money’s at. Race certainly is important. But to even imply that it is the be-all and end-all of “diversity”-increasing measures is more than a bit insulting to those who actually want a diverse campus, rather than one that looks nice on brochures.

The other important detail that the article brought up is the “academic index” that the UA uses:

President Robert Shelton said the UA uses its own academic index to evaluate incoming students, which encompasses a variety of factors including standardized test scores and a high school’s academic standing and difficulty of curriculum.

Because prospective students are not required to take the SAT, he said, these scores can be an inadequate indicator of students’ academic quality.

Shelton added that the UA’s evaluative system is “not foolproof.”

The “academic index” is an idea originally tried out at the Ivy League schools. From the primer at College Confidential:

The Academic Index may seem like a gross oversimplification – reducing a student’s K – 12 academic record to a single number seems almost ludicrous. However, the AI does provide a quick snapshot to harried college admissions staff members. Any Ivy League admissions officer would certainly explain that applicants get a far more in-depth look than the AI might suggest.

. . .

Without going into the detailed mathematics, the Academic Index combines numeric values based on a student’s SAT I and SAT II scores plus his/her class rank or GPA. Since schools report class rankings in different manners (or sometimes not at all), the last measure can be a bit tricky. Nevertheless, standardized computation procedures have been established to allow Ivy League schools to calculate a consistent Academic Index for all applicants.

According to Hernandez, the AI is converted into a numeric ranking at most Ivies. Some use a 1 to 9 scale, others a 1 to 6, etc. Princeton, she says, uses a 1 to 5 scale, with 1 being the best. Dartmouth and University of Pennsylvania use a 1 to 9 scale, where 9 is the best. While acknowledging that many other factors play a role in admissions, Hernandez notes that students with an converted AI ranking of 8 and 9 (i.e., those applicants with the two highest categories of Academic Index) are admitted at much higher rates than lower indices.

It’s not immediately clear how the UA’s own index relates to these sorts of indices – the UA’s numbers come out as triple digit scores. Whatever it may be, though, it’s going down as well (source):

Unfortunately, I don’t yet have access to the 2009 numbers, in spite of being a member of the “UA Community.” I suppose that the index could somehow rise dramatically in spite of decreases in SAT and GPA inputs, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

Remember, though, that all of this is irrelevant – as President Shelton said, the SAT and academic index are all “inadequate indicators.” The only rating that does matter comes from the President’s office – and since President Shelton says that this is the smartest, diverse-ist, and most-super-duper class in the history of everything, it obviously must be. QED.

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4 Responses

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  1. Laura Donovan said, on 31 August 2009 at 4:47 pm

    I know! I read the news headline this morning and immediately thought of the Lamp. I guess this just means you come up with better leads faster than the paper.

  2. […] Ever. Nonetheless, the Admission Czar (Paul Kohn)’’s response to the Wildcat’s response is a rather stunning repudiation of non-UA-based metrics: This year’s freshman class is in fact […]

  3. Only thing they hate more than me is mirror said, on 1 September 2009 at 12:11 pm

    Further proof these guys are hacks. Shark Bitin’ is a no-no

  4. […] it’s been interesting to observe which blogs get their posts cited, and which ones don’t. […]


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