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More False SAT Averages

January 26, 2013

Bucknell University's president sent a campuswide letter Friday admitting that the university had reported false SAT and ACT averages from 2006 through 2012.

The averages were incorrect because some students' scores were left out of the averages. In a few cases, those omitted had scores higher than those reported. But most of the excluded students had lower scores, so the result of leaving them out was to inflate Bucknell's averages.

"[D]uring each of those seven years, the scores of 13 to 47 students were omitted from the SAT calculation, with the result being that our mean scores were reported to be 7 to 25 points higher than they actually were on the 1600-point scale," said the letter, from John C. Bravman, the president. "During those seven years of misreported data, on average 32 students per year were omitted from the reports and our mean SAT scores were on average reported to be 16 points higher than they actually were."

The ACT scores were inaccurate only for some of those years, but for several of the years resulted in real averages one point lower than those reported.

Even though the inaccuracies were "relatively small," Braveman wrote that they were significant. Reporting false information "violated the trust of every student, faculty member, staff member and Bucknellian they reached. What matters is that important information conveyed on behalf of our university was inaccurate. On behalf of the entire university, I offer my sincerest apology to all Bucknellians for these violations of the integrity of Bucknell."

Bravman's letter said he was concerned that due to "national discussions about college admissions," some people "may reach the incorrect conclusion that the scores omitted were from some single cohort that people typically cite – such as student-athletes, students from underrepresented communities, children of substantial donors, legacies and so on. All such speculation would be in error. The students came from multiple cohorts, and of course the university will not disclose their identity."

The false data were discovered after Bill Conley, a new vice president for enrollment management, noted that the mean SAT score for incoming students this year was about 20 points below last year's reported average. He then investigated, and found the pattern of false reporting.

In an interview Saturday, Bravman said that he believed a single person had been responsible for the false data. SAT and ACT scores were reported to the institutional research office in aggregate form, he said. So the institutional research officials relied on that aggregate data and never had the raw data that might have raised questions.

Bravman said that he has had discussions -- which he described as unsatisfactory -- with the person who was responsible for the reporting, and whom Bravman declined to identify. Bravman said that this person denied trying to make the university's admissions process look better either for internal or external audiences, and never offered a real explanation for what had happened.

"I'm very frustrated," Bravman said of these discussions. He said that it appeared to him to be "ignorance at best" or "incompetence at worst" in recognizing the importance of reporting accurate data.

Data on the Bucknell website have been corrected, and U.S. News & World Report, which was given inaccurate data for rankings purposes, has been informed of the problem, and given correct information, Bravman said.

In 2012, Claremont McKenna College, Emory University and George Washington University all submitted false data to U.S. News about undergraduate admissions, as did Tulane University's business school with regard to M.B.A. admissions.

 

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