Last night, I started seeing #MERIT14 tweets before I had even seen the official (internal) list of who was invited to be in the 2014 MERIT cohort.
The entire application and selection process is a bit of a mystical art-science, really. I wanted to write a quick blog post to address the excitement and disappointment inherent in the days that follow the announcements.
With that in mind, here's a little Q&A.
Q: How do you decide who gets in?
A: We don't, really. We use a number of factors to rank the applicants and then we cut up that ranking into accepted, waitlisted, and not accepted.
Q: What factors are considered?
A: First, we obtain a raw score based on responses to the long-answer questions on the application. The raw score is based on an aggregation of scores from a large number of scorers from our MERIT faculty team and former (usually most recent or two most recent) cohort members. We get several people to score each question's responses from ALL applicants. We then use that data (which I believe is very fairly obtained) to get the raw score.
From there, we have points for all sorts of things: principal recommendation, attended an info session, previous relationship with KCI, applying as a team, etc. Now we rank the folks based on the new adjusted score from highest to lowest. We have an initial cut-off somewhere after the top 20 or so. For the next 20 to 40 people below that first threshold, we have to consider a bunch more factors.
We try to maintain a balance of participants from different types of schools and districts serving different students. We look to have a balance of grade levels. Sometimes we have to consider specific donor requirements on how their funds are used.
What the process IS NOT is PERSONAL. We can only accept about 40 to 45 people. When there are a hundred amazing applicants, some have to be turned away.
Q: How can I have a better chance of getting in next year if I was not accepted this year?
A: First and foremost, focus on your students. It is SO not about you, the teacher. Your focus comes through in your responses. So to start off with a strong raw score, make sure you truly address what the questions ask, with a student-centered focus, and keep to the word counts. Also, SERIOUSLY, proofread. Spelling and grammar mistakes affect the reader's perception of your ideas. Period. And that question where we give you a chance to tell us about yourself? Do it. FREE. POINTS.
Beyond that, make sure your principal is able to highly recommend you with absolutely no reservations. Come to an info session before the application is due. Don't finish the application at the last minute. (We don't consider WHEN you submitted, but we all know that rushed work is seldom our best.) Consider applying as part of a team if you didn't before. Learn a lot about the program so you know what you'd be getting into.
And be understanding when we can't accept everyone. Your attitude on that front goes a long way.
While you're waiting for next year's application window, what can you do to better prepare yourself for a future MERIT experience? PD out the wazoo. EdCamps, PlayDates, and local events (free and cheap, especially) are a great places to start. Catch the self-directed PD bug. Don't wait for a personal invite. Sacrifice some Saturdays if you can to attend local educator-run professional development and you'll meet a lot of people who are in or have gone through the MERIT program. What better way to understand what it's all about than to spend time talking with people who've been there?
Join your local CUE affiliate or similar organization so you can keep updated on what goes on in the EdTech world where we live. Get on Twitter and follow #MERIT13, #MERIT14, and #CAedchat.
That's what I would do if I wanted to make myself a stronger candidate for a future MERIT cohort.