Monday, February 8, 2010

The National Merit Scholarship Corporation plays the heavy

This morning's Chronicle of Higher Education had an article about the National Merit Scholarship Corporation's attack on a blogger, Nancy Griesemer, for her publication of the state cutoff scores used by NMSC for its awarding of National Merit Scholarships.  Her point was that these cutoff scores vary widely from state to state, so that a student scoring at a certain level on the PSAT (used as the cutoff for the awarding of the scholarships) would qualify for a scholarship in one state, while a student scoring at exactly the same level in another state may not qualify.

As was criticized by the National Association for College Admissions Counseling in a report last year, the use of a single test for the awarding of the scholarships is an inappropriate use of a high-stakes test.  Nevertheless, the NMSC persists in this practice, and has refused to release data on the distribution of its scholarship recipients by race or socioeconomic status.

Seems that the NMSC accused Ms. Griesemer of publishing "proprietary information," yet these cutoff scores are fairly widely-distributed, such as to pretty much every high school guidance office in the nation.  Nevertheless, NMSC demanded that she take the information off of her blog, which she did.  As legal experts in the Chronicle article pointed out, you can't sue someone for publishing facts.  FairTest, an organization dedicated to the appropriate use of educational testing, and presumably more able to stand up to the NMSC, jumped to Ms. Griesemer's defense and assistance by publishing the list of state cutoff scores.  You can find FairTest's list here, where for example you can see that a PSAT score of 208 would be high enough to qualify you for a scholarship in Alabama, but a score of 221 would be required in Massachusetts or Maryland.

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