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Carleton reacts to Claremont SAT snafu

<readful SAT: the bane of every college-bound student. As the nation’s most common college admission exam, it has resulted in many grueling hours spent memorizing countless vocabulary words.

Yet for most college students, the SAT is now a thing of the past – a nostalgic memory. 

However, for students at Claremont-McKenna College in Claremont, Calif., their SAT scores have resurfaced in an unexpected way. Last Monday, students, faculty and administrators of Claremont-McKenna and other schools across the nation received news of CMC’s involvement in false reporting of its students’ SAT scores.

That morning, Claremont-McKenna President Pamela Gann notified the CMC community via email that for six years, the Office of Admission had inflated the statistics of scores for the incoming classes by an average of 10 to 20 points.

“Although the degree of inaccuracies varied over time, we understand that the reported critical reading and/or math SAT scores were generally inflated by an average of 10-20 points each,” Gann said in her address. “For the fall 2010 class, which is the most recent year that has beenreported generally to the public, the individual reported a combined median of 1,410 when the actual should have been 1,400, and reported a 75th percentile score of 1,510 when the actual should have been 1,480. It is also important to note that, while overall statistics were manipulated, we do not have reason to believe any student’s individual score was altered.”

There have been numerous speculations of the motivations behind the fabrication.

“I am absolutely puzzled as to why CMC did this,” said Paul Thiboutot, Carleton’s dean of admissions and financial aid. “However, if you’re asking me if there is pressure on deans of admissions to increase rankings, then the answer is yes.”

Claremont-McKenna College is a private, liberal arts college that currently claims the ninth spot in the “U.S. News & World Report” ranking of the top liberal arts colleges in the nation.

Ranking in the Top 10 implies top scores, great prestige and high selectivity. Schools with the top ranks appear more desirable and, consequently, attract brighter students.

Many argue that CMC falsified test scores in order to improve its standings in these national rankings. However, according to the “U.S. News & World Report” website, SAT/ACT test scores only count for 7 percent of the rankings calculation, while academic reputation, retention rate and faculty resources make up the majority.

This scandal has shaken those involved in, and those observing the admissions process. It reveals the unsettling truth about the procedure in which admissions offices report statistics to the federal government, accreditors, bond-rating agencies and national publications. Most of the admissions industry runs under the honor code, where all information is “self-reported.”
 “There is no universal standard for reporting scores,” Thiboutot said.

In fact, there is a thin line between reporting false data and presenting data in a favorable way. According to Robert G. Springall, the Dean of Admissions at Bucknell University, “There’s a difference between lying about data and wrestling with difficult questions about how to present data. The first is wrong, but the second is ubiquitous. What do we count and what don’t we count?”

Many admissions offices have found indirect ways to inflate their average scores. Schools such as Middlebury College and Bowdoin College do not require students to submit their SAT/ACT scores. Most likely, in these cases, applicants with exceptional scores submit their test scores, while those with relatively low scores opt out of reporting scores. Therefore, the reported statistics do not accurately represent the class median.

Since it is certainly possible and rather easy to “cherry-pick” the data, is it valid for people to point fingers exclusively at CMC?

“Deans of admissions are always under pressure to do things like [manipulate statistics],” Thiboutot said. “Working at admissions, your integrity is questioned on a regular basis.”

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