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Argument may be a rank disgrace

July 12, 2007

Re "The No. 1 reason to rank colleges," Opinion, July 8

Michael Skube's argument in favor of the U.S. News & World Report ranking of colleges misses the point.

What many of us dispute is the validity of a single score computed by using "data points" to which weights are arbitrarily ascribed (why should retention count for 20% instead of 30%; why is peer assessment 25% instead of 10%; and who decides?). How can a single measure be valid when, in some cases, values are made up when they are not provided (the case of the missing SATs at Sarah Lawrence -- the point of my Washington Post Op-Ed)? However, that's exactly what U.S. News does each year. Professional statisticians have reported that the methodology used by the magazine is seriously flawed and cannot be trusted.

Skube says he knows "all he needs to know about Sarah Lawrence" because the college does not use SAT scores in its admission process, and therefore he infers we don't take aptitude seriously. Perhaps he doesn't know the research showing that SAT tests do not measure aptitude and at best provide a guess about academic performance in the first year of college. I do not think Elon University's SAT scores tell all there is to know about Elon. To think so would be falling into the trap of using one single measure as a proxy for the complex nature of any college. Which is precisely why the rankings are flawed.



Sarah Lawrence College

Bronxville, N.Y.


Duke University a "fallback school"? When I graduated in 1981, we were called "the Harvard of the South." Duke has only become more popular, and more difficult to get into, over the last 26 years. Certainly, everyone is entitled to his opinion, but to lump Stanford in with the Ivy League schools and then list Duke and others as "fallback schools" is simply misinformed.

Do I detect some rivalry, or sour grapes perhaps, from a professor at the relatively unknown Elon University in North Carolina?


Marina del Rey

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