A Fairer Future: How Casper Enhances Holistic Admissions Processes

In today’s diverse educational landscape, ensuring fair higher education admissions is paramount. One of the pressing concerns many institutions face is the challenge of demographic disparities. Enter Casper, a situational judgment test and innovative tool that paves the way for more equitable opportunities. At Acuity Insights, collaboration with academic institutions is integral to understanding and leveraging the latest research trends, ensuring products not only address the present concerns but also evolve with changing needs. 

This week on the Holistic Success Show we welcomed Dr. Alex MacIntosh, Scientist and Senior Manager, Research at Acuity Insights, along with Anju Visen-Singh, Senior Director, Marketing. They dove deep into the essence of these disparities, and explored how tools like Casper are making strides in bridging the equity gap. 

So, if you’re passionate about creating a level playing field in education, read on!

What does the term “demographic differences” mean, and how does it relate to higher education?

Demographic groups encompass a wide range of identity characteristics, such as gender, race, age, socioeconomic status, and even specifics like where someone grew up. The complex interplay and overlapping of these identities, termed intersectionality, can compound their effects on an individual. In admissions, these identity characteristics become significant and can also be specific to the program, extending to factors like in-state versus out-of-state applicants or campus locations. These demographics can be sourced from census data or self-reported surveys. 

In our society, these identity markers have historically been tied to differences in access to resources, opportunities, and experiences. Such disparities can manifest in education as enrollment gaps, test score discrepancies, and graduation differences. For instance, a higher rate of college graduations among more affluent individuals illustrates the graduation gap. Furthermore, the experiences one accumulates, influenced by factors like neighborhood and school programming, can shape the opportunities and knowledge that align with a school’s values during the admissions process.

How does demographics impact access to higher education?

Systemic inequalities deeply influence educational settings, stemming from societal policies and structures that have historically marginalized individuals based on factors like race, gender, and identity. Yet, the modern understanding underscores the value of diversity in learning environments. A varied student body enhances problem-solving through diverse perspectives and prepares students for an interconnected global workforce. The belief is that representation from varied backgrounds allows for better community service. However, the tension arises when these progressive ideals clash with existing systemic biases.

How does the Casper help to improve equity in admissions?

Casper, a situational judgment test (SJT), is increasingly adopted in higher education admissions for its ability to evaluate non-academic attributes, forming a key part of holistic admissions. Compared to personal statements, SJTs, particularly Casper, are more reliable, valid, and efficient, allowing programs to thoroughly explore more applicant’s history and experiences. In Casper, candidates are presented with scenarios to assess their judgment. For instance, they might be asked how they’d handle a group member not contributing equally in a project. With the rise of SJTs in admissions, they’ve become as integral as GPAs, and are consequently influenced by the same systemic inequities found in education.

There are two primary types of SJTs: fixed response (like multiple choice) and constructed response, with Casper being the latter. In Casper, applicants provide open responses detailing how they’d react in a given scenario, allowing them to draw from personal experiences without strict right or wrong answers. The focus isn’t just on the decision, but also the reasoning behind it. Factors like cultural norms and past opportunities can influence one’s familiarity with expected behaviors and responses in the test.

Acuity Insights, the company behind Casper, is cognizant of systemic inequalities in education. They’ve crafted Casper to mitigate these biases. Notably, demographic differences in Casper outcomes are significantly smaller compared to traditional academic assessments. Key features that enable this include the open-response format, a diverse group of scenario designers, and intentional rating structures. To mitigate bias, raters undergo implicit bias training, have scenario-specific resources, and are monitored for quality assurance. With 14 different raters evaluating each applicant, a broad spectrum of opinions is achieved. This multifaceted approach supports Casper in becoming more equitable, helping to reduce the existing barriers in admissions.

How is Casper used within the admissions process to reduce demographic differences?

It’s essential to clarify that Casper isn’t inherently built to reduce demographic differences, but due to its diverse and multi-perspective approach, it has demonstrated smaller demographic differences, by 25 to 50%, compared to academic standardized measures.

Holistic admissions have been a predominant approach in the last two decades to address inequalities, aiming to value the entire individual, beyond just academic preparedness. This approach evaluates the applicant’s skills, attributes, and contextual factors that contribute to their performance. It’s a method that considers multiple dimensions of every applicant, fostering inclusivity.

Casper aligns seamlessly with the holistic approach by providing a platform to assess non-academic components early in the selection process. When integrated effectively with academic metrics like GPA, and given meaningful weightage, usually between 30 to 50%, Casper assists in evaluating multiple facets of all applicants. This balanced assessment can aid in prioritizing candidates for further review or interviews. Given that demographic differences are typically smaller in Casper assessments, assigning it more weight compared to academic metrics can facilitate a more diverse and inclusive selection process.

Boston University School of Medicine integrated Casper into their admissions to enhance their holistic approach, focusing on individual histories. A study showcased Casper’s correlation with interview performance, securing committee buy-in and demonstrating its role in minimizing demographic differences by 50% compared to academic measures. This led to its incorporation into the screening process. The collaboration resulted in deeper insights into applications and a nuanced understanding of Casper scores, underscoring their importance in the selection process. This internal realization of Casper’s potential highlighted its adaptability and significant impact on fostering comprehensive and equitable admissions.

To find out more about the work Dr. MacIntosh and the Research Team are conducting at Acuity Insights, visit our Research page, or contact the team directly at research@acuityinsights.com.

To listen to the full episode on Casper’s impact on demographic differences, visit our YouTube channel.