Liberal University Admissions Policies Cheat Students, by Cherylyn Harley LeBon

lebon_smIn recent months, there have been a growing number of reports of cheating on standardized tests.

Last fall, 20 people were arrested in connection with an SAT cheating scandal at a Long Island high school, leading the local prosecutor to bring charges against the students. Just last month, an official with Claremont McKenna College in California resigned after admitting to inflating the SAT scores of incoming freshmen to boost the college’s standing in the U.S. News and World Report rankings.

We teach our children that cheating is never acceptable, but the sad reality — and the dirty little secret — is that some colleges and universities are essentially cheating on test scores by manipulating admission policies.

Whether it involves top athletes or wealthy international applicants, it happens more than we want to admit. The Claremont McKenna scandal also raises concerns about the influence and validity of college rankings, issues that present problems for U.S. News and other college ranking publications like Princeton Review and Kiplinger.

The most disturbing form of legitimized cheating on college rankings is known as a test-optional admissions policy. An increasing number of colleges give applicants the option of submitting or withholding their SAT scores as a part of their admissions package. This practice can lead to inflated average SAT scores among incoming freshmen because only the highest scorers are likely to submit their rest results. Higher SAT scores mean a higher ranking for the school.

Some experts argue that this trend ultimately harms students. In 2008, Jonathan Epstein, a researcher with the education consultancy Maguire Associates, studied the impact of test-optional policies in college admissions. Epstein discovered that test-optional policies at colleges and universities led to artificially inflated average SAT scores and gave a false representation of the student body. He found that the policies also further confused prospective students and families and were “not in the best interest of any institution or higher education in general.”

Colleges and universities continue to rely on standardized tests to make admission decisions as they attempt to differentiate among students who will likely succeed and those who will be at risk or underperform. Creating false impressions can play into a liberal political trap.

Opponents of the SAT exam have long argued that the test determines who gets into college and who does not, and should be abolished in favor of “test-optional policies.” These arguments are largely promoted by left-wing academics and liberal activists wishing to further the manipulation of higher education through an equality-of-outcome system rather than the traditional merit-based college application process.

They also use this reasoning as a tool to subvert laws preventing affirmative action and other forms of discrimination in college admissions.

So, in an attempt to be the best, colleges are taking shortcuts with test-optional admission policies and gaming the system in an effort to increase their rankings, get the best athletes and athletic facilities, raise more money from alumni and donors and otherwise enjoy the accolades that come with the prestige of a higher ranking. But the ones who suffer are the children who will not get an accurate assessment of whether a particular school is the best fit for them — especially among colleges with test-optional policies that artificially inflate the school’s average SAT scores.

Cheating is always wrong. It is wrong when students cheat on SAT exams in order to increase their chance of getting into a good college, and it is equally wrong for colleges to cheat in order to increase their rankings and stature.

As a mother of two young children, I encourage and expect my children to maintain integrity and honesty to hopefully become productive members of society. If colleges and universities expect to be the training ground for our children and future leaders, they also need to adhere to the highest standards of integrity and honesty. Eliminating test-optional policies and replacing them with an honest and proven admissions standard is a good place to start.

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Cherylyn Harley LeBon, a member of the national advisory council of the Project 21 black leadership network, is a former senior counsel for the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee. A version of this commentary previously appeared on Comment may be sent to [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @HarleyLeBon.

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