A Comprehensive Communication Plan Aids the Successful Rollout of The Character Skills Snapshot at Marist School
At Marist School (Georgia), the admission team has long been focused on finding a way to measure character in the admission process.
Associate Director of Admissions Angela Elledge explains, “In the same five years that our school has been working with EMA to develop The Character Skills Snapshot, at Marist we have taken several steps to develop the noncognitive piece of our application process. We changed the applicant interview to be a group interview — with the goal of looking at how the student reflects teamwork, self control, initiative, resilience, and so forth, in that interview. We’ve also reworked the questions in our teacher evaluation to try to gain a better understanding of how the student feels about himself or herself.”
As the 2017-18 season approached, after some consideration of waiting a year, Elledge and her team decided to “jump in” and require The Character Skills Snapshot in their application process.
Once they had committed to including The Snapshot, the team worked to integrate it fully and comprehensively into their communication about the application process.
“Because it was a new requirement, we made sure to mention The Snapshot in all of our touch points. It was in our application, on our website, and in all of our literature. We talked about it at prospective parent coffees and on family tours, explaining that the assessment gave us an opportunity to learn more about their children at this moment in time. We said there were no right or wrong answers to the assessment; rather, the results would give us one more piece of information for our holistic review. We made use of the informational pieces that EMA provided, picking and choosing the phrases that worked for us. We also provided links to the guides Because Character Matters and How to Access The Snapshot for parents to learn more about the tool.”
With this clear communication leading the way, the rollout of this new application requirement to about 550 families went smoothly.
At assessment time, Elledge explains that when they began evaluating applicants, they found the results complemented information at which they were looking. “In some cases, they brought to light areas of a student’s character we hadn’t considered. In other cases, The Snapshot report helped us fill in missing pieces.” She continues, “Beyond the assessment piece, The Snapshot has also given us a profile of our incoming class — the strengths and challenges as a whole.”
"For our school, and likely for others,” concludes Elledge, “we’re already looking for evidence of character skills. The Snapshot provides that evidence in a way we are not capturing fully at any other point in the application.”
Focusing on the Big Picture at Mid-Pacific Institute
At Mid-Pacific Institute (Hawaii), admission team Ella Browning and Hoku Chong focus on the big picture, and they encourage parents to do so as well.
“We tell families who are applying that our school’s role is not just to help students academically, but also to help them develop into responsible community members.” They find parents to be receptive to that message. “Today’s parents are starting to realize that having a 4.0 GPA is not all that matters in the real world, in work and in life.”
When they decided to include The Character Skills Assessment as part of their application process, they explained to families that it was part of that same focus. It would give the school another way to get to know applying students.
Administering The Snapshot for the first time went smoothly overall. Families found the test to be convenient, especially the ability to take it from home. Going into the assessment process, Browning and Chong provided Snapshot results to the admission committees. Throughout the discussions, they were conscious of keeping in mind that these were self-assessments, which they found important to remember especially for the youngest of their applicants.
Browning and Chong will continue to consider more specifically how to use the results of The Snapshot in their assessment process, but they are prepared for it to take some time. “Because the tool is new — and because EMA has plans to make refinements in the coming year — it might take us a bit more time to determine exactly what that looks like.” They advise schools considering using the tool to expect the same. “Schools should expect that it may take a year or more of administering The Snapshot to decide exactly how it will fit into the whole assessment process. This will depend on each school’s process, and on the age range of the students —i.e., there may be differences in how a middle school uses this information vs. how a high school uses it.”
The team is committed to using The Snapshot with their applicants. “It is interesting and valuable to our whole picture to look at how students see themselves in important areas like intellectual engagement and resilience. Beyond that, having The Snapshot as a requirement sends a message to parents that character is something we truly value. It is part of ‘walking the talk.’”
As part of the original 32-school working team that helped to develop The Character Skills Snapshot, the Mid-Pacific team is enthusiastic about the industry movement. “The fact that EMA, for so long associated with a standardized test that measures academic readiness, has invested in a tool that measures other important aspects of the whole student is a game changer. It shows a lot about the growth of the movement and the organization.”
Leveling the Playing Field at Crossroads
With many excellent secondary schools and new competitor schools cropping up, the Los Angeles market is competitive.
For Crossroads School in Santa Monica, the admission entry point at sixth grade is particularly challenging. With applicants coming primarily from public schools, there is significant price sensitivity and less of an orientation to the value of an independent school education and the admission process. In addition, the information the admission team receives about students varies widely, depending on whether the student is coming from a public school or private school.
Eric Barber, director of enrollment management at Crossroads, believes The Character Skills Snapshot will help level that playing field.
This past year, his team used The Snapshot with one subsection of students — the students in their immediate school district where public school teachers are restricted from writing recommendations. He describes this pilot test as a game changer for many of the students they admitted.
In the coming year, the Crossroads enrollment team plans to require The Snapshot for all applicants, grade six through 12. Barber believes it will increase the information the admission committees have about every applicant, helping them learn more about all the students. Beyond that, he believes using The Character Skills Snapshot will reinforce his school’s mission and brand. It will help us “differentiate our admission process from the competitor schools, in that we really are showing that we care about the entire brain and the entire kid, because that's who we are as a school.”
Barber says The Snapshot is a good fit for his school. “We're a very progressive school, very relationship-based, reflective, and very much led by student interest. The characteristics that it measures reflect what we're trying to deliver in our education model.”
Sending a Message that Character Matters at Crescent School
Nearly all independent schools pride themselves on developing character in their students, but Crescent School in Toronto is singularly focused on it, according to David Shaw, director of enrolment and financial aid. For the 2017-18 admission cycle, Crescent required prospective students to complete The Character Skills Snapshot as part of their application. As Shaw puts it, “Because character is in our mission, we believe we should assess it.”
“We knew that by requiring it, we were sending a message to families that character is important to us," he explains. “It was a critical piece in our marketing.”
Rolling out The Snapshot to the ~250 applicant families went smoothly, with no complaints about accessing and completing it. Shaw explains, “It was not a big additional burden— it doesn’t take the applicant a lot of time to complete.” He continues, “When families asked how to prepare, we encouraged them not to!”
In the review process, Shaw found that The Snapshot results were useful in making tough decisions. His team is now thinking through how the results could fit into their overall application weighting system for the coming year.
As the season progressed, Shaw saw another outcome of using The Snapshot, “I realized the results could prompt an important conversation for a boy applying to our school and his family, even if he didn’t end up enrolling at Crescent. It’s something a boy can carry with him and learn from.”
In the end, Shaw believes The Character Skills Snapshot helped his school demonstrate its commitment to character. Some applicant families, he explains, need to be convinced about the all boys’ environment. “In fact,” he says, “I believe as a boys’ school we have a particularly big opportunity and responsibility to focus on developing character. The Snapshot helped us tell that story.”
Taking the Long View at Lakeside
After offering The Character Skills Snapshot as an option to applicants the previous year — as one of the 2016-17 pilot schools — the admission team at Lakeside School in Seattle decided to require it for for the 2017-18 season.
Booth Kyle, associate head of school/director of admissions and financial aid, explains that in the assessment stage this year, The Snapshot results served as additional information that readers could consider in their decision making. He explains, “The Snapshot reinforced our personal sense of the applicant, particularly in the upper school.” The results also provided Kyle valuable information about the admitted students as a group. “Among the middle school and upper school groups, the strongest characteristic was intellectual engagement. [Having that information] helped me to be able to talk about the group in that way.”
Now the team is looking ahead.
Kyle and his team plan to dig into the data so they can further understand The Snapshot results and best use them in the coming years to enhance their program’s overall goals. “We want to sort through all the data and for next year, go into the reading season much more certain of what we are looking at.”
Kyle sees the potential in triangulating the results of The Snapshot with other key pieces of information. He explains, “We spend a lot of time interviewing applicants, and in that way we are getting really good information from a trusted person (the interviewer). Then there are teacher evaluations, which we feel good about. Now, with The Snapshot, we have information from the student; this triangulated information could be really powerful if the teachers and interviewers and students are all saying the same thing.”
Kyle also sees potential in using The Snapshot results in improving a student’s overall education. “The characteristics it is assessing are important for development while students are in school.” The results can help leaders of academic programs know where the kids are coming from. “That information in thoughtful hands," he concludes, "could make any education better.”