Claremont McKenna Says College Official Inflated SAT Scores

Claremont McKenna College, a liberal arts school near Los Angeles, said a college official had reported inaccurate SAT entrance exam statistics since 2005.

The SAT scores for critical reading and/or math were generally inflated by an average of 10 to 20 points each year, according to a letter to the college community by Claremont McKenna President Pamela B. Gann. The school belongs to the group of seven schools known as the Claremont Colleges.

Scores on entrance exams are used in college rankings by publishers such as U.S. News & World Report, which are influential with students and parents. The admissions official, who wasn’t named in the memo, has taken full responsibility and resigned, according to the letter, which was obtained by Bloomberg News. Test scores and class rankings supplied by colleges aren’t verified by outside sources, said Bob Schaeffer, a spokesman for FairTest, an advocacy group based in Boston.

“The perception is a higher ranking leads to both more applicants and a better group of applicants,” Schaeffer said in an interview. “This is all part of the college admissions arms race and yet another example of the perversion of the college admissions process.”

Independent Review

Some schools have gone “test optional” -- they have dropped the SAT as an admissions requirement -- saying they favor the affluent and don’t predict academic success. Among them are Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and Pitzer College, which is also one of the Claremont Colleges.

Claremont McKenna’s Gann said she doesn’t believe any individual student scores were altered and the college hired law firm O’Melveny & Myers LLP to conduct an independent review.

“As an institution of higher education with a deep and consistent commitment to the integrity of all our academic activities, and particularly our reporting of institutional data, we take this situation very seriously,” Gann wrote.

For the current sophomore class, the college had reported a combined median SAT score of 1,410 when the actual one should have been 1,400, as well as a 75th percentile score of 1,510 when the actual should have been 1,480, Gann said.

Iona, Baylor

Claremont isn’t the only college to acknowledge inflated data about its students.

Iona College, based New Rochelle, New York, released an audit last year detailing incorrect information that was sent outside the school about incoming freshman acceptance rates, SAT scores, graduation rates and alumni donations, according to a November statement.

Reported SAT scores for incoming freshmen were overstated by an average 6.5 percent, according to the school.

Baylor University in Waco, Texas, offered a $300 credit at its bookstore to freshmen who retook the SAT before they matriculated, an action the school called a “goof,” said Lori Fogelman, a university spokeswoman. If the students earned 50 or more points above their original scores, they received the store credit and a $1,000 scholarship, she said. The offer wasn’t an effort to improve the school’s rankings, she said today in an interview.

“We regret having provided financial incentives to students to retake the SAT that summer,” Fogelman said. “We heard and we understood the criticism.”

The SAT is owned by the New York-based College Board. E-mails and phone calls to the nonprofit company weren’t immediately answered.

About 1,200 students attend Claremont McKenna in Claremont, California, according to its website. Gann became the fourth president in 1999 after serving as dean of Duke University’s School of Law.

Alumni include Henry Kravis, chairman of private equity firm KKR & Co., and Peter Weinberg, co-founder of New York investment bank Perella Weinberg Partners LP.

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