Why Does One Claremont College Lie on SAT Scores?

My hometown of Claremont, California has a unique claim to fame: the presence of five undergraduate colleges, two graduate universities and one school of theology. Of those five undergraduate schools, four are ranked by U.S. News in the top 23 schools nationwide, and two are ranked among the top ten. One of those schools is Claremont McKenna College (locally known as CMC), which recently broke the top ten barrier and has a lower acceptance rate than both Cornell and Stanford.
However, CMC came under scrutiny after they publicly acknowledged the dean of admissions lied about their students’ average SAT scores. The increase in scores wasn’t too significant: between ten and twenty points per test section, or the difference between the 94th and 95th percentile.
But the current independent investigation could have serious repercussions. Schools have lost their accreditation over falsified data and, although it currently appears as though only one person was acting in this case, their reputation as an outstanding institution has been cast into doubt.
Yet, the situation at CMC is not one that is totally isolated. Rather it follows from the idea that intelligence can be objectively quantified by an SAT score. This pseudo-meritocracy, upon which the U.S. education system operates, is based on the premise that a bigger score is indicative of higher quality. We see examples of this idea in action beyond CMC, from students paying others to take the SAT for them, to elementary school teachers fixing state testing scores.
At a time when No Child Left Behind reigns supreme and universities grow desperate to attract funding, it seems as though there’s a visible push towards fudging numbers, but not improving the quality of education. In using these exams to measure success or intelligence, we stray from the goal of an actual education in favor of greater test scores.
When it was SAT time at my school, my classmates and I spent hours discussing who had the best scores. As a nervous test taker, I internally cringed whenever someone would ask me about my scores, which weren’t spectacular, and I grew deeply uncertain of myself; everyone around me seemed to be getting scores above 2000 points, why couldn’t I? What college could want someone as apparently mediocre as me?
This didn’t stop after high school; when the International Baccalaureate (IB) scores came out over the summer, I was besieged with phone calls asking how well I did on my exams. Though I received my IB Diploma, it was often implied that I should feel ashamed of myself because I didn’t receive one of the top scores in my class.
It was hard to cope with the fact that my typically average scores—whether SAT, ACT or IB—did not necessarily indicate I was stupid or had less worth than someone who scored higher than I did.
While CMC did wrong, the reasons for their actions are understandable. They were under very real pressure to quantitatively show they were among the best. This desperate need to have the best scores is crippling on every level; it damages the self-esteem of students, and as we now know, makes even the best institutions feel the need to lie.


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