Cooking Test Scores

Interesting item from the New York Times yesterday:

Claremont McKenna College, a small, prestigious California school, said Monday that for the past six years, it has submitted false SAT scores to publications like U.S. News & World Report that use the data in widely followed college rankings.

In a message e-mailed to college staff members and students, Claremont McKenna’s president since 1999, Pamela B. Gann, wrote that “a senior administrator” had taken sole responsibility for falsifying the scores, admitted doing so since 2005, and resigned his post.

There’s no particular reason to suspect that this is more than an isolated incident. But like the far larger test-score cheating scandal in Atlanta that was exposed last year, it’s a reminder that rating schools and students based on very narrow self-submitted quantitative data produces powerful incentives for cooking the books. Regular readers of the Washington Monthly are familiar with this publication’s efforts to provide information on colleges that goes beyond the limited but highly-influential material supplied by U.S. News and other sources. Removing the silver bullet of shallow measurements of educational quality can help reduce the temptation to just make it all up.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.