Tuesday, March 13, 2007

War Against US News & World Report

By Richard Vedder

I read that Sarah Lawrence College is declaring war against US News & World Report (USNWR). I have somewhat mixed feelings about this, but am more on the side of USNWR than against them. I do not think Sarah Lawrence will win its battle in any case.

Sarah Lawrence is mad because, when it announced it was dropping requiring the SAT exam, it led USNWR to announce that it would have to estimate a student quality of Sarah Lawrence's students, and it would have to be cautious in the evaluation of them, with the implication that the rankings may fall. Sarah Lawrence doesn't like standardized tests, apparently, and doesn't want people ranking it. While clearly they have the right to do what they wish, they are trying to shut down one of the few "bottom lines" in higher ed. They are taking a step against transparency, full information, etc., showing an arrogance and contempt for consumers and donors which is commonplace these days in the academy.

On the other hand, the USNWR rankings are based on dubious criteria and contribute to the rise in college costs. So the one side of me is sort of happy that USNWR is being taken on. But what we need are more rankings, not fewer. We need evaluations based on what students learn in college, on student success rates in getting jobs, on their ability to get through college in a timely manner, etc.

I also worry about this tendency of some schools to abandon the SAT. I think it is a reasonably reliable predictor of student academic success, and not considering it leads to subjective evaluations of students that may lead to less emphasis on academic quality and merit, and more on meeting whatever the fashionable thing of the moment is in terms of the nature of student bodies.


Ken D. said...

Information has value. IMHO, if Sarah Lawrence College (SLC) does not wish to provide SAT scores, USNWR acts reasonably in discounting its SLC rating.

On the other hand, a reasonable compromise solution would be for SLC to more scientifically calculate a better or more reliable estimate or projection of what the SAT average of it's incoming class would be, were this data collected, based on the partial SAT data and other information it does receive. If SLC was able to make a strong statistical case for their projected number, I think the onus would then shift to USNWR to justify not using the scientifically calculated SLC SAT estimate.

Kit said...

as a sarah lawrence student who (accidentally) found your blog through google, I wanted to respond with a couple comments.

First of all, there is a reason that SLC doesn't take SAT scores. In the year I've been here so far, I've not taken one exam or test. I've written plenty of papers, but there have been no outright tests, quizzes or exams. Most teachers don't use them here (with a few exceptions in certain science and math and language courses). But in such a writing heavy school, what does a test that has only one small section of writing do for their evaluation of a student?

Instead, different numbers are used - the grades a student received over their high school career, the recommendations from teachers, and their essays they submit. There are approximately three essays SLC requires, including one that was submitted to a teacher with teacher comments on it. This way, they're able to get a complete view of a student's writing ability and thus their ability to keep up with the demanding schedule.

What extra would the SAT scores provide to SLC? Nothing they don't already know. Because they don't want to use them in determining admission (which I think will increase rather than decrease in terms of ability), they don't accept them. It's not that they don't "want" to report that data; it's that they don't collect it anymore - so how can they report it?

Thus, I think that USNWR has acted inappropriately in the manner they've treated SLC regarding our decision to drop SATs as a requirement.

Furthermore, the way the rankings work in general (outside this one small issue), is also in question (in my mind). There are problems with asking presidents of various colleges to rate colleges they are not familiar with - but that's how the peer review works.