Show me a ranking system and I'll show you a way to “game the system” to manipulate the apparent results. You see this with sales quotas, annual bonus plans, emergency room waiting targets… it's often easier to manipulate the system than it is to really improve the process (credit to Dr. Donald Wheeler for that gem in his classic book Understanding Variation: The Key to Managing Chaos.
The most recent case I've seen in the news was about Baylor University. Apparently, they paid H.S. seniors who were already accepted to the university to RE-TAKE the SAT (aiming for a higher score). These seniors (they had actually already graduated) were offered a $300 bookstore credit for their troubles.
Higher score –> Better U.S. News and World Report college rankings
Not setting a good example, are they, the university leaders? An outside critic says:
“This is a straightforward, cynical attempt to manipulate test score averages to boost Baylor's rankings,” Mr. Schaeffer said. “This is a perfect example of what Nacac warned about in their report.”
Some students are very critical:
“I think the people who put forth this decision completely compromised what they say Baylor is about: its Christian values, the integrity of Baylor, the integrity of Baylor 2012,” Mr. Gawrieh said in a telephone interview.
A university spokesman gives a weasel-y non-answer to a direct question:
Asked whether the decision was motivated at all by the college rankings, Mr. Barry responded: “Every university wants to have great SAT scores. Every university wants to be perceived as having a high-quality class. We all wanted that. Were we happy our SAT scores went up? Yes. Did our students earn their scores? Yes they did.”
We need to expect more from our educators. Of course, a cynical view could say that teaching students how to game the system will serve them well in the working world… or academia!
Don't want to miss a post or podcast? Subscribe to get notified about posts via email daily or weekly.