Another SAT Scandal

If you’re coming here, you’ve probably already heard that Claremont McKenna College has suffered a bit of a scandal: Dean Richard Vos has resigned after apparently admitting that he reported inflated SAT averages for the incoming freshman class for one or more years.  This is not unprecedented, of course.

In the interest of disclosure, I should say I know Dick; we both worked at Grinnell (but not at the same time) and I’ve met him a few times, and had some email conversations with him over the years.  I would call him a familiar acquaintance, known more by reputation than in person.

One commenter on this story on Twitter said “Why do it for 10 points?”   Yet another on the site linked above says that students and colleges are more than a score.  Good points.

Our society has become so obsessed with the SAT and ACT, that the freshman class average has become something of importance.  Regardless of how little the scores actually predict in terms of ultimate college success, the illusion of precision makes them easy tools in the evaluation of otherwise hard-to-evaluate things.  And even statistically insignificant differences are apparently worth the gamble.

Inflating scores is wrong, and a man who apparently did so has suffered some consequences.  But it’s ironic: There are easier ways to make those scores appear higher than they actually are, like super-scoring, or admitting low-testers in off terms. I’ve written about all these things already, and while most people inside admissions know those things go on, I’ve never felt comfortable with the practice, and don’t do it at DePaul.  And when we announced that we were going test optional a year ago, we also said we’d report scores for every student, even those admitted without scores.

Yet at the same time, I know colleagues–good people, to a person–who feel enormous pressure from presidents, trustees, faculty, students, and even alumni–most of whom have no background in testing or admissions, and many who have no background in education–to keep the scores up and to increase them.  And I know that in general, if you report higher scores, you get more applications, which allows you to be more selective (another thing, by the way, set forth as a goal in strategic plans, and endorsed fully by the same presidents, trustees, faculty, students, and alumni that demand higher scores).

So, I don’t condone; I understand.  And I’m grateful I work where I do.

And I may write about this more in the future.

5 thoughts on “Another SAT Scandal

  1. Why did he inflate the scores? If there’s an institutional cultural pressure to do what Dick did then why is he the only one is to blame?

    CMC, rather than “taking out the trash” and circling the wagons, take a moment to reflect on what you’ve done to an employee of 25 years to bend him to such an unethical and, potentially, illegal act. Dick Vos is a good guy. The pressure to meet the demands of an institutional “strategic plan” lead him to cook the books.

    Blaming just Dick is like Enron blaming only the accountant who kept the ledger. Its time Higher Ed stopped this race to the bottom by striving to be the top and return to efficiently and intellectually building the next generation of citizenry.


  2. Well said, Jon. I don’t think I’m the only one in our roles who woke up to this story, though about the pressures Dick must have succumb to, and though, “There but for the grace of God go I.”


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