Claremont McKenna Admits Inflating SAT Scores

Officials at Claremont McKenna College announced Wednesday that the school submitted inflated SAT scores for several years to publications such U.S. News and World Report to boost its rankings. Claremont McKenna is ranked among the top 10 liberal arts colleges by U.S. News and has recently seen an upswing in popularity among applicants.

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A top-rated liberal arts college admits it lied about its students' SAT scores. The school is Claremont McKenna College in California, and it submitted inflated scores to a national ranking service and to the federal government.

As NPR's Larry Abramson reports, the incident could threaten the school's U.S. News and World Report ranking.

LARRY ABRAMSON, BYLINE: Claremont McKenna is a rising star among the nation's liberal arts colleges. But late yesterday, the school had to notify staff and students that a senior admissions official had deliberately falsified the SAT scores of students entering the school. The difference was relatively small, adding only 10 to 20 points to the average score.

But Robert Morris, director of data research for U.S. News, says it still could have an impact on the school's ranking.

ROBERT MORRIS: It's certainly not going to drop the school to 20th place, but I guess there's some chance that it could drop out of the top 10.

ABRAMSON: School president Pamela Gann recently touted the school's number nine ranking in a list of achievements. In her message to students yesterday, Gann try to limit the damage, saying this was the act of one person - no one else was involved. The school's accrediting body, the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, accepted this explanation and indicated there would be no negative consequences if the school handled the matter appropriately.

But critics of the U.S. News ranking saw this episode as another sign the ratings race has gotten out of hand. Bob Schaffer, with the organization FairTest, says it shows how silly it is to parse fine distinctions between similar schools.

BOB SCHAFFER: To have single points separating schools between nine and 11 on a ranking scale encourages them to manipulate the data to boost their ranking.

ABRAMSON: That same false data went to the U.S. Department of Education. The department said the school could face fines, but that is unlikely if this is, in fact, an isolated incident; the act of an admissions official gone rogue.

Larry Abramson, NPR News.

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