A California college has admitted that one of its officials inflated its SAT scores for six years to boost the school’s place in annual college rankings.
The president of Claremont McKenna, a small private liberal arts school in Claremont, Calif., sent an e-mail to the college community saying that a senior administrator had acknowledged submitting phony scores to publications such as U.S. News & World Report since 2005. The New York Times reported that the person, whom President Pamela B. Gann did not name, was most likely Richard C. Vos, vice president and dean of admissions, whose name is no longer listed among top official on the college Web site.
Such falsification shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone who follows the consequences of attaching high stakes to test scores. There is not just a corrupting effect in the classroom — with teachers teaching to the test, and, sometimes, cheating on the tests — but, obviously, in rankings as well.
The Claremont McKenna scores that were submitted were generally 10 to 20 points higher than the real scores, according to the president’s e-mail.
Such test-score misreporting is not unique to Claremont McKenna, according to Bob Schaeffer, education director at the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, or FairTest, a nonprofit organization aimed at eliminating the misuse of tests.
Some colleges and universities have inflated test score averages in a number of ways over the years, including, Schaeffer said in an e-mail, “excluding athletes, legacies and other special or ‘conditional’ admission categories; not counting international students whose first language is not English; and encouraging accepted applicants with low test scores to matriculate in the spring semester, rather than be included in averages of fall entrants.”
Another recent case occurred at Iona College in New York, where officials late last year acknowledged that a former provost had falsified student data to a number of organizations, including government agencies, accrediting bodies and bond-rating agencies, Inside Higher Ed reported.
Such manipulation is literally old news; the Wall Street Journal wrote in 1995 an article titled “Colleges Inflate SATs and Graduation Rates in Popular Guidebooks.”
This all relates to how competitive the college admissions race has become in the wake of the popularity of rankings, especially those of U.S. News & World Report, which purport to be objective listings based on hard data.
Data, as we know, can be and sometimes is fudged. And the largest factor in the U.S. News rankings — worth 22.5 percent for National Universities — is the combined assessment of a school’s reputation by academics from rival institutions and by high school college admissions counselors. For National Universities, peer assessment is worth 15 percent (it used to be 25 percent) plus 7.5 percent for high school counselors.
Our concern shouldn’t be limited to the scandals that we know about it. It should be about all the others that are yet to be uncovered.
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