Examining the Potential and Limits of Rubrics as Tools for Racial Equity in Graduate Admissions: A Sequential Mixed-Methods Inquiry
Effective Years: 2023-2027
How universities make the decisions that affect access to higher education are a root cause of racial, gender, and socioeconomic inequalities in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM). Particularly given changes to the legal landscape for considering race in admissions, it is urgent to develop tools that reduce racial bias in admissions decisions. More higher education institutions are adopting rubrics in admissions, particularly as test-optional and test-free become the new normal, and research suggests that rubrics reduce K-12 teacher racial bias and improve diversity in faculty hiring. However, there is little evidence about how rubrics should be designed or implemented in graduate admissions. Two types of evidence are needed in particular: 1) Generalizable data about the usefulness of rubrics in a variety of disciplinary and institutional types and 2) Lived experiences about the feasibility of rubrics and the underlying assumptions they prompt when evaluating applicants.
The goal of this project is therefore to expand the evidence base about rubrics in graduate admissions to include multiple data types and multiple levels of analysis. It has a sequential mixed methods research design involving a large-scale experiment and qualitative research with members of established, national research-practice partnerships. Specifically, it aims to advance knowledge about the potential and limits of evaluation rubrics for racial equity in STEM PhD admissions at three levels: 1) whether and how rubrics affect racial biases at the individual level; 2) what standard practices organizations use for selection and how they navigate barriers to using rubrics; and 3) the cultural values about excellence that often drive individual judgment and organizational practices. The project is significant as the first experimental study of how rubrics can be designed and used in STEM PhD programs. It aims to inform discussion and practice in adjacent evaluation contexts, including fellowships/ scholarships, awards, hiring, and tenure/ promotion.
This project is supported by NSF's EDU Core Research (ECR) program. The ECR program emphasizes fundamental STEM education research that generates foundational knowledge in the field. Investments are made in critical areas that are essential, broad and enduring: STEM learning and STEM learning environments, broadening participation in STEM, and STEM workforce development.
This award reflects NSF's statutory mission and has been deemed worthy of support through evaluation using the Foundation's intellectual merit and broader impacts review criteria.