This timeline illustrates the involvement of CEA and the NBTs in transforming admissions by increasing access and identifying potential. It has been adapted from UCT's Admissions Focus: A Monday Monthly Supplement, May 2014.
The University Academic Planning Committee asks Senate to consider the introduction of a test of potential as a complementary assessment to the school-leaving examination. Such a test would be developed to assist with the identification of talented school-leavers from educationally disadvantaged backgrounds whose school results might not demonstrate their ability to cope with Higher Education study, but who nonetheless exhibit the potential to succeed at university. This mandate is directly aligned with UCT policy focused on redress, in the context of the then-racially fragmented South African Higher Education system. The Alternative Admissions Research Project (AARP) is established.
A pilot study is carried out in order to assess the criteria being developed for selection, as well as the feasibility of pre-matriculation selection itself. At this stage, the Language Test is the only instrument used.
In the early years, the focus of the testing initiative was solely on assessing students for alternative access. The 1980s witness growing political turbulence in South Africa; this has a significant impact on the amount of time it takes to organise and secure community acceptance of the AARP. Meetings with the joint SRCs of township schools take place under conditions of both secrecy and uncertainty. The establishment of a national testing initiative under such conditions therefore represents a considerable achievement.
By the nineties, there is a shift of focus for AARP. A constant increase in the number of writers and national writing centres creates the need for a Project Administrator. Furthermore, an increase in the quantities of data yielded leads to the development of a central data server and the post of Database Administrator.
In 1992, the Project formally becomes part of the organisational structure of the Academic Development Programme (ADP), although it retains its autonomy in terms of funding and policy direction.
A significant aspect of the mid-nineties is the design and development of a Mathematics Comprehension Test (assessing potential for mathematical thinking at the level required to major in mathematics) as well as a Mathematics Achievement Test (designed to assess gaps in mathematical knowledge of students from educationally disadvantaged backgrounds). Also the Language Test is redeveloped as the Placement Test in English for Educational Purposes (PTEEP). At this time, AARP begins testing nationally for UCT admissions, and acquires its first external ‘client’ in Rhodes University.
AARP recommendations are officially included in the early-offer system and the AARP resulting procedure is formally integrated into the central database of applicant information.
The Project is approached by a number of external institutions interested in using the tests and procedures. By 1998, five other South African universities have used the tests for various purposes.
Information yielded by the AARP tests is used more frequently in a diagnostic manner. Cluster analyses are carried out, and in-depth throughput and diagnostic reports are generated for UCT faculties and external clients. The end of the nineties also heralds an ambitious phase of statistical reporting on AARP throughput data – culminating in the highly successful validation of AARP in a survival analysis report produced by the UCT Statistics Department, and independently replicated by externally contracted research.
The AARP operation grows from strength to strength in the new millennium, and a number of full-time posts are created to cope with the growing workload.
Following the growing interest in and success of the work of AARP nationally, the then-South African Universities Vice-Chancellors’ Association begins to consider the possible assessment of all Higher Education applicants’ potential to cope with the language and mathematical demands of tertiary study. Seven South African medical schools meet to discuss the possible introduction of a common entrance examination for all applicants to medical schools in the country, and the existing suite of three AARP tests is adopted for this purpose. AARP’s work assumes national importance across a wide range of disciplinary study.
Piloting and use of a fourth AARP test – the Scientific Reasoning Test – commences. This test is initially used only for applicants to medical schools, but is soon broadened to include the assessment of all allied health professions at the seven participating universities.
The now mainstream use of AARP and Health Sciences Placement tests draws attention to debates in the Higher Education (HE) sector about tests of potential and tests of ability to cope with core academic demands. It is clear that the AARP tests have proved useful in terms of identifying academic talent, but it is also clear that the HE sector needs to identify the academic readiness and preparedness for learning of all entry-level HE students. Consideration is now given to the use of standardised assessments that also offer recommendations about the placement of students in particular curriculum streams.
The National Benchmark Tests in Academic Literacy, Quantitative Literacy and Mathematics are developed as criterion-referenced assessments in selected-response (MCQ) formats, and the National Benchmark Tests Project is launched as a pilot project with an initial five-year timeline.
By now the work of the AARP includes involvement in four major national testing projects: the National Benchmark Tests Project (NBTP); AARP testing; the Health Sciences Consortium (HSC) testing; and the Standard Assessment Tests for Access and Placement (SATAP) Project – testing of applicants and registered students in the historically disadvantaged institutions of the country.
From 1 January 2014, AARP becomes a department within the Centre of Higher Education Development, with a new name: the Centre for Educational Assessments (CEA).