Academy admission policy challenged

Group claims school misuses test scores to keep some from applying

July 26, 2002|By Ariel Sabar | Ariel Sabar,SUN STAFF

A watchdog group accused the Naval Academy yesterday of improperly preventing students from submitting a full application solely because of their scores on SAT or ACT tests.

The group, the National Center for Fair & Open Testing of Cambridge, Mass., says that the military college violated the guidelines of college testing companies that standardized test scores be judged as just one of many factors in the admissions process.

The group made the accusation after a California high school senior complained about a letter from the school saying he would not be sent a full application because his test scores were short of "pre-qualifying levels."

"These scores are the minimum levels needed to receive an application," T.P. Tumelty, the head of candidate guidance, wrote the student in November.

The academy's spokesman, Cmdr. Bill Spann, said the school does use what it calls "initial qualifying scores" to help screen applicants. But he said that the school routinely makes exceptions for applicants with exceptional grades and leadership experience.

"We look at the whole person," he said.

He declined to comment on the letter from Tumelty or the specifics of the rejected student's case.

The academy is not alone in using some form of qualifying score in the admissions process. Despite the admissions testing guidelines, more than a dozen colleges have minimum test score requirements, according to the College Board, the company that administers the SAT.

The watchdog group, a 17-year-old nonprofit financed in part by the Ford Foundation, says that it singled out the Naval Academy because it is a federal institution.

"The fact that it's taxpayer-funded is a concern in terms of having our public institutions serve our students fairly," said Christina Perez, who monitors college testing for the group, also known as FairTest.

Perez said the group was also troubled that the academy had not conducted statistical studies in at least 10 years to determine whether its cut-off scores were reliable predictors of success at the college.

The complaint comes amid continuing criticism that the SAT is a poor gauge of college aptitude and that it discriminates against minorities, who tend to be less able to afford private coaching on the test.

FairTest echoed those concerns in a statement yesterday, saying that "improper testing requirements, such as the arbitrary `cut-off score' used by the Naval Academy, create particularly unfair barriers of access for women and applicants of color because of the tests' biases and inaccuracy."

Last month, the College Board announced a major revision of the SAT test, including the addition of a handwritten essay. Those changes were partly in response to criticism from the University of California, which had threatened last year to drop the exam in favor of measures more closely related to high school achievement.

Admissions to Annapolis are extremely competitive. Of the 12,000 applicants for the Class of 2006, 1,200 were accepted. Applicants must be nominated by a member of Congress or the president, pass a physical fitness test and submit to multiple levels of screening, including an assessment of moral character.

The average SAT scores of entering freshmen have been about 1300 in recent years.

The student whose case triggered FairTest's complaint, Daniel A. Wurangian, 18, of Granada Hills, Calif., scored 970 on the SAT.

But he said yesterday that he hoped his 3.6 grade point average, his class rank and his experience as battalion commander of his high school's junior Naval ROTC program would win him admission to Annapolis.

He filled out a "pre-application" form on the academy's Web site last fall. But two weeks later, he got the rejection letter saying he needed minimum SAT scores of 530 on the verbal test and 570 on the math test to receive a full application. "I was really upset," he said.

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