Education students, faculty react to SUNY emphasis on GPA, GRE scores

On Sept. 18, the State University of New York Board of Trustees announced a new resolution to take effect in fall 2015 for both undergraduates and graduates enrolling in SUNY Schools of Education and Teacher Preparatory Programs, which requires a 3.0 grade point average for all applicants and Graduate Record Examinations test scores. The effort behind these measures originated with a governor’s panel recommendation to SUNY’s administrators to help strengthen the quality of developing teachers through the SUNY system. Observing countries like Finland, who have successfully implemented these academic requirements in their own teacher preparatory programs, gave hope to the Board of Trustees to replicate something similar in the SUNY system.

SUNY Distinguished Service Professor of the Ella Cline Shear School of Education at Geneseo Dennis Showers discussed different factors of the developing academic standards, as well as the dangers in executing these measures in the statewide system. Showers said that SUNY is trying to get ahead of the state education department and essentially enforcing standards that may become regulation in the future.

In regards to Geneseo, Showers said that implementing new academic requirements would change the 2.75 GPA standard already put in place, lowering the pool of possible applicants. It would also limit the college from waiving this 2.75 GPA mandate in special cases where a promising student fails to attain the required grade.

“Geneseo can waive rules we make, but we can’t waive SUNY rules, and we can’t waive State Education rules,” Showers said. “We didn’t make them. We can’t alter them.”

The Board of Trustees’ resolution does, however, give an alternative to the 3.0 GPA requirement: Freshmen who enter universities with a declared major in education can be evaluated on their high school transcripts rather than a college GPA. Those who fall within the top 30 percent of their high school class are deemed eligible for admission to SUNY schools of education.

“The impact would be more on the underrepresented student populations,” Dean of the Ella Cline Shear School of Education Anjoo Sikka said. Underrepresented populations include those students in SUNY Access Opportunity Programs, women in science, technology, engineering and math fields and men in elementary education.

Another concern is the threat this academic requirement might pose to students enrolled in a SUNY school but not yet enrolled in their education departments.

“We don’t know how many students who would have applied will now decide not to apply because it’s getting so difficult,” Sikka said.

Others argue that GPA is not a sufficient indicator of a student’s potential success.

“I don’t think GPA would be the best indicator,” Lauren Pearsall, a student currently enrolled in the School of Education graduate program, said. “I think that New York State should look more at the qualities of the person as they’re applying.”

Pearsall related this to previous students who she knew didn’t have a GPA of 3.0 but who thrived in their school’s department of education.

“They didn’t have as strong of grades, but when it was involved with education or student teaching, they did perfectly fine,” she said. “They were fantastic teachers.”

This new criteria not only affects undergraduates but graduate students as well, who will be required to take the GRE under the new resolution.

“The problem is a number of SUNY schools, including Geneseo, have used the GRE for a number of years and were giving it up because it’s not a useful predictor of student success,” Showers said. “They’re making us go back to something we gave up because we didn’t see any use in it.”

To combat these issues, a committee of SUNY faculty will develop an analysis on the most prominent factors that indicate the success of a student in education. The committee will present their findings to the Board of Trustees with the hopes of mending the resolution to fit students in areas beyond academic achievement.

“Teachers have to function in very global ways,” Sikka said. “They have to focus on the whole child. GPA and academic excellence is a necessary criterion, but it is not a sufficient criterion for being a good teacher.”