There’s been a whole lot of buzz about the new ETS Personal Potential Index (PPI). We decided to do some investigating of our own to learn more about the innovative applicant evaluation system.
We spoke with Kate Kazin, ETS’ executive director for strategic initiatives in higher education, and got the scoop on PPI—the benefits, the way it works, and why schools, recommenders, and students are raving about it. Thank you, Kate, for the PPI refresher course!
What is the Personal Potential Index?
The Personal Potential Index, or PPI, is a new web-based tool that allows recommenders to provide information about an applicant in the areas, or dimensions, of knowledge and creativity, resilience, communication skills, planning and organization, teamwork, and ethics and integrity. Evaluators fill out an overall evaluation and then rate applicants on their performance in these six dimensions. At the end of each section is a space where recommenders can provide examples or comments to supplement or explain their ratings.
How does the PPI differ from traditional letters of recommendation?
The PPI is a standard form that recommenders fill out to provide a qualitative and quantitative picture of applicants. The idea behind the PPI is that you can’t tell the whole story with test scores alone, and so the PPI rating system allows recommenders to go beyond the scope of grades and scores…in just about 11 minutes.
According to Ms. Kazin, “What makes the PPI unusual is that it combines the feedback of multiple evaluators. Each evaluator fills out the evaluation form and provides comments, and then ETS takes the ratings and comments from the multiple evaluators and produces a single PPI Evaluation Report for that applicant. An evaluator can fill out the PPI just once for an individual applicant, regardless of how many schools the applicant is applying to, but what the school gets is the Evaluation Report from the multiple evaluators, not the evaluation itself.”
How, why, and when was the PPI developed?
The PPI has been in the making since about ten years ago when the GRE board found that there were two major problems that were bedeviling graduate education: Students were beginning programs and never finishing them, or they were taking forever to complete them. The GRE board consulted with ETS about what could be done to address these issues. The board asked ETS to come up with a tool that would help identify which students would be more likely to succeed.
ETS researchers interviewed business school and graduate school deans and concluded that more than technical mastery of the field it is important to have non-cognitive skills like resilience, integrity, etc.
After a decade of research and development, the PPI was launched in the summer of 2009. It is the brainchild of the Center for New Constructs, a division at ETS that works to develop ways of measuring intuitive, hard to measure dimensions and attributes of applicants.
ETS will be doing a validity study next year to provide evidence about the system’s incremental validity.
How widely has the PPI been adopted?
So far 12,000 students have accounts and 2,000 reports have been sent to different schools. All graduate schools will accept the PPI as a supplement to the required letters of recommendation, and some business schools (like Notre Dame Mendoza) are already requiring it instead of traditional LORs. There are a number of medical schools and dental schools that are also accepting the PPI, and the interest among top b-schools is on the rise.
The PPI is available free for GRE test-takers (for them to send reports to up to four schools), and is available to all other applicants for a fee.
How is PPI better for applicants? How is it better for the schools? For recommenders?
With the PPI, applicants get a chance to show more of themselves, to put their best foot forward and highlight strengths that may not be apparent from standardized test scores. The PPI adds, in a meaningful way, more about an applicant than does a number or a set of numbers. Another advantage of the PPI is that applicants can mix and match—they can have one person fill out the form for one program or school and another person for a different program or school.
For schools, the PPI provides the benefit of easy to use comparable ratings. It provides an important dimension to the application process in a way that’s convenient, doesn’t cost schools anything, and is easy to use.
Evaluators appreciate the PPI because it helps them advance the case of the students they are recommending. It’s true that many evaluators are filling out traditional LORs in addition to the PPI, but most feel that spending an additional 11 minutes on an easy form does more help than harm—plus, it’s web-based and can filled out anytime and anyplace. Resistance has been minimal and comes mostly from people who haven’t actually tried it.
In short, it’s really a win-win for everyone. As it becomes more widely known, we should begin to see the number of users increase quickly.
Doesn’t an applicant’s personal statement reflect his or her non-cognitive side? Shouldn’t that be enough for the adcom in receiving a broad picture of the applicant?
It’s true that the personal statement provides those things, but the benefit the PPI brings to the application is the non-biased perspective of an outsider.
Is there any encouragement in the instructions to recommenders to provide examples and specifics in their comments, as opposed to “Johnny is great”? If not, will there be a loss of qualitative information, which good recommendations used to provide?
Most people fill out some of the comment fields, especially if an applicant is weak in a particular area or requires more explanation. Evaluators are encouraged to include comments, and since the whole process is so short anyways, most feel like they can spare the time to write additional information.
Are there security features to prevent forged PPIs—a problem with traditional LORs?
It is a problem with traditional LORs. We provide all the information about the evaluator so if a school wants to investigate further they can. Many times applicants fill out their own recommendations because they don’t want to burden their recommenders or because of a language barrier (like if their recommender doesn’t read or write English fluently). The hope is that the PPI is so easy to fill out that applicants won’t feel like they need to fill it out themselves. Also, the PPI has been translated into Spanish and Chinese to help with the language problem.
Has the PPI received any criticisms?
In general business schools have been much more open to the PPI. In grad schools, however, which are considered more traditional, it’s harder to ask people to change the way they’ve been doing admissions for years. A resistance to change forces intelligent people at prominent schools to ask questions like, “But where would we put it in the folder?”
Can you talk more about how the PPI will contribute to diversity if graduate admissions?
When adcoms look just at standardized test scores, they may miss very good candidates that have other qualities that can contribute to their success at school. By taking a student’s non-cognitive skills into account, the PPI helps create a more level playing field. As part of the rigorous research process, the PPI was tested in conjunction with Project 1000, an initiative to increase historically underrepresented students in stem fields, and was proven successful.
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