George Griffin: Test scores misleading

January 25, 2014 

China banned “death by a thousand cuts” in 1905. UNC leadership continues a modern version of this torturous practice with its self-inflicted “death by a thousand claims.” The latest cut is Mary Willingham’s release (through CNN) of Scholastic Abilities Test for Adults scores for a group of athletes. In a faculty meeting, university leaders explained how Willingham’s accusations are flawed and unfair (“UNC rebuts report on athletes,” Jan. 18 news article).

University representatives are correct. Willingham’s use and interpretation of grade equivalent scores is fundamentally incorrect.

The SATA is not a reading ability test. Interpreting these scores to conclude that a group of college students is reading at a fourth- to eighth-grade level is incorrect. The SATA was normed on only 1,005 individuals in 1989-90. The professionally correct and only accurate test score interpretation is that the athletes obtained the same number of correct responses on the SATA as did several hundred students in grades four to eoght who were in the original norm group. This does not mean they are reading at a fourth- to eighth-grade level.

So the university is technically correct and should prevail in this skirmish, but it will continue to suffer from self-inflicted cuts until the leadership embraces a process of honest and transparent disclosure.

George Griffin

Chapel Hill

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