The Washington Post

Bucknell discloses SAT score inflation

Bucknell University has disclosed that for several years it reported inflated SAT scores for incoming freshmen, making the private Pennsylvania liberal arts school the latest school to acknowledge providing faulty data to analysts who rank colleges.

The disclosure, reported over the weekend by the Web site Inside Higher Ed, follows similar admissions in the past year at Claremont McKenna College and Emory, George Washington and Tulane universities. In each case, at least some data the institutions submitted to U.S. News & World Report for annual rankings turned out to be in error.

GWU, which had been 51st on the U.S. News list of national universities for 2012-13, lost its ranking in November as a result. U.S. News now calls GWU unranked. Tulane’s Freeman School of Business was also declared unranked.

In a statement Friday on the Bucknell Web site, President John C. Bravman said aggregate SAT scores for incoming freshmen from 2006 through 2012 were overstated by 7 to 25 points on the 1600-point scale for the college admissions test in math and critical reading.

The errors occurred, Bravman said, because in each year the scores of some students — ranging from 13 to 47 in a year — were omitted from calculations.

“These numerical omissions, as relatively small as they were, violated the trust of every student, faculty member, staff member and Bucknellian they reached,” Bravman wrote in a statement addressed to the university’s board of trustees. “What matters is that important information conveyed on behalf of our university was inaccurate. On behalf of the entire university, I offer my sincerest apology to all Bucknellians for these violations of the integrity of Bucknell.”

Bravman said “enrollment management leadership no longer with the university prepared these inaccurate numbers,” but he did not name who was responsible. He said the faulty data came to light when a new vice president for enrollment management became concerned that average SAT scores for the entering class now taking shape seemed to be significantly lower than scores for classes in previous years. That triggered an internal review.

It was unclear why the problem occurred. “We can’t discern people’s intentions,” officials said on the Bucknell Web site, “but at a minimum the inaccurate numbers show an inexplicable inattention to the accuracy of data that the university is obligated to manage carefully and report on completely.”

Bucknell, in Lewisburg, Pa., has 3,600 students and ranks 32nd on the latest U.S. News list of best national liberal arts colleges. It is tied with College of the Holy Cross, Kenyon College and Mount Holyoke College. At this point it is unknown whether Bucknell’s SAT problem will affect its rankings.

Nick Anderson covers higher education for The Washington Post. He has been a writer and editor at The Post since 2005.

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