[Excerpt] In the eyes of American parents, college admissions officers control the single most important gate their children will ever pass through. Nearly all parents hope their child will go to college. Perceptions of what it takes to get into preferred colleges and universities profoundly affect the courses students take, the standards teachers set and the effort students put out.
Many (but not all) of the admissions selection criteria favored by American colleges and universities unwittingly create incentives for educationally dysfunctional behavior by secondary school students, teachers and administrators and by voters in school budget referendums.
How can college admissions criteria be causing so many problems? Some selection criteria are fine: the rigor and challenge of academic courses should be given heavy weight as should externally assessed achievement in these courses. This will induce students to take challenging courses and to work hard in them. They also induce administrators to offer rigorous courses (eg. AP and IB courses) and to hire teachers who have the thorough content background necessary to teach them. Most of the other commonly used selection criteria— aptitude test scores, rank in class, high school GPA, rank in class and high school reputation—send as many pernicious signals as they send positive signals.