The Bigger College Admissions Scandal: How our Public Schools Dupe Colleges (and our Kids)

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Is it good for our children to lie and cheat on their behalf? 

A striking feature about the college admissions scandal – revealed to the public this week through FBI indictments – is that the children of these wealthy elite were, for the most part, kept in the dark about their parents devious schemes to game the admissions system on their behalf. There were two main ways parents cheated the system: 1) through bribing coaches to claim that their children were elite athletes; 2) through falsifying their children’s SAT scores either by paying testing centers to change their answers or by paying proxies to take the test for them.

It is the latter scheme that the children seemed clueless about, their parents going to great lengths to keep their children in the dark. According to the FBI’s affidavit, one the plaintiffs planned to have her daughter take the exam on her own the first time because she knew her daughter would want to take it again to improve her score, no matter how high it was:  “I just know that no matter what, she’s so academically driven … no matter what happens, even if we go, ‘This is a great score,’ that she’ll go, ‘I really want to take it again.'”

Consequently, the children were duped into thinking that they had achieved at a higher level than they actually had, and that they were better prepared for college than they actually were.

This is exactly what public schools do when they lie about student achievement by rewarding students with good grades irrespective of the level of knowledge a student has actually attained in a course. While a student may sense that s/he has not really learned much in a class, the high grade is nonetheless a stamp of approval from the school that s/he has met expectations, and a signifier to colleges that the student is capable of succeeding in college level work.

But are they meeting expectations? In recent weeks, we have shown (on our Facebook page) that many high school students in Douglas County who make As and Bs in their courses cannot even make a respectable score on a standardized exam (either state administered EOCs, or College Board AP exams).  Let’s take Science for example. In AP Physics in 2018, even though 80% of the 203 students made an A or B in the class, only one – yes one! – made a passing score on the AP exam, and a shocking 88% made the lowest possible score of 1, indicating that they didn’t know any more AP Physics than you or I do. Yet colleges are misled by these grades, which suggest that the students are ready for college-level science, and throughout the course, the students were duped into thinking they were doing fine. At the lower end of the academic spectrum, over 50% of students made an A or B in Physical Science – a grade that should represent proficiency in the curriculum. Yet only 20% made a proficient score on the EOC exam. Thus, upwards of 30% of students were given a grade that signified ‘college readiness’, even though the more objective and valid exam score showed otherwise.

Such behavior is rationalized the same way these parents justified their own cheating. Teachers and administrators tell themselves that they are “helping kids out” by massaging their image on transcripts. But aside from the fact that dishonesty is wrong regardless of who it helps, are they really helped? It’s the kids who experience the long-term negative consequences of this cheating!

Students graduate deceived by the school system that they are ready for college, but they are eventually dispelled by this illusion when they fail post-graduation. According to statistics kept by the Governor’s Office of Student Achievement, five years after graduating, only 15% of the DCSS class of 2012 had a Bachelor’s degree. Four years after graduating, only 12% of the class of 2013 had any kind of postsecondary credential (which includes technical certificates. Statewide, the numbers aren’t much better (the deception is widespread!): 19% of all 2012 graduates had a Bachelor’s five years later.

This is likely only getting worse. And colleges are now lowering their standards to accommodate masses of unprepared students, thus making it even easier to graduate, while diminishing the value of a college degree.

Are you outraged by elites using their wealth to cheat the system? The regular manipulation of students’ grades to make it look like they are more capable than they are actually are is wrong for the same reasons, and is far more widespread and damaging to society.

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