I have often expressed my dislike of college rankings. And then we get the story that Claremont McKenna college, a great liberal arts college, was manufacturing SAT scores that they sent to US News, presumably in an attempt to get better rankings.
Very disappointing. But then I read a response to this and the “the cycle of absurdity.” This response was one of the best responses I have seen to the games that get played to make colleges look better to the rankings world. Thanks to Jon Boeckenstedt at DePaul University for permission to repeat his comments. Here are Jon’s comments:
“By now, of course, everyone has read the most recent story of a college reporting inflated SAT scores. I blogged about it a little last night ( http://bit.ly/wuWy3n ) but have since had a few more thoughts.
A few people have already leapt to the conclusion that this is about ratings, and I don’t think that tells the full tale: Test scores account for about 7.5% of your overall score in USNWR, if I recall, so a small change in a small variable doesn’t really mean that much. I’ll grant, however, if you’re #10 and you feel some pressing need to hang on to that ranking (because who would ever want to go to #11?) it may make sense.
But really, this is just another verse in that song titled “The Cycle of Absurdity.” It goes like this:
* It’s really hard to measure educational effects, since humans are, well, human.
* With costs increasing, everyone wants to get the most bang for the buck.
* Absent any meaningful way to compare colleges, parents and students look for precision
* Precision is obtained in test scores, selectivity, and rankings (read Sternberg’s essay on Inside Higher Ed, here http://bit.ly/zIT7uc)
* Colleges like to enroll better students; they think better students like better colleges
* Presidents, trustees, faculty, students, and alumni like to be associated with “better”
* You pursue the trappings of “better” perhaps even at the expense of real “better”. You create fake “Fast Apps” and SuperScores
and other things designed to fool the public. We found a great student randomize app that is very useful, check it out here https://www.classdojo.com/toolkit/random
* The public buys it
* Your bad behavior is thus reinforced, and it starts all over again next year, when the president and the trustee put in the strategic
plan that selectivity and test scores must continue to rise. Because, of course, donors like to give money to “winners.”
* Even Charlie Sheen is confused by all this winning stuff. But he sends his kids to the schools for winners.
The silliest outcome of this will happen when someone suggests that CMC grads are no longer as attractive in the market place because “their SAT’s aren’t as high as we thought.” But I guarantee you it will happen.
Can we all stop?”
Some schools completely shun rankings, refusing to participate or to publicize results – whether positive or negative. (Ironically, some of the schools that most eschew ratings are, in fact, very highly ranked.) But all schools must file certain basic facts and figures about their institutions, so ranking organizations can access and use that data.
To read more about college rankings check out Union College’s blog at http://www.unioncollegeguidance.com/.