UNC-CH: Outside researchers refute claim of low athlete reading levels

Posted April 11, 2014

UNC Football Helmet

— Outside experts hired by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill say research data doesn't support claims of widespread low literacy levels among student-athletes at the school.

Academic adviser Mary Willingham has said that most of the 183 basketball and football players she reviewed from 2004 to 2012 read at an eighth-grade level or below. Her data was featured in reports on CNN, ESPN and HBO in recent months.

In its report, CNN didn't use SAT or ACT scores but rather a custom calculation to measure the reading skills of the student-athletes.

UNC-Chapel Hill officials rebutted Willingham's claims in January, saying that an internal review found that more than 97 percent of the first-year student-athletes enrolled between 2004 and 2012 exceeded CNN's threshold. The majority of those who didn't eventually graduated, officials said.

The school then asked researchers at the University of Virginia, the University of Minnesota and Georgia State University to analyze the data independently, and UNC-Chapel Hill administrators said Friday that their findings back up the the stance that the majority of the school's student-athletes "scored at or above college entry level on the SATA Reading Vocabulary subtest."

SATA, the Scholastic Abilities Test for Adults, was given to some student-athletes shortly after arriving on campus as part of a screening process to identify possible learning differences or learning disabilities.

The researchers said the test shouldn't be used to draw conclusions about overall reading ability.

Willingham has said she stands by her research.


This story is closed for comments.

Oldest First
View all
  • ericsgrowing Apr 21, 2014

    Who cares about low literacy levels? The issue here is that they had fake classes that nobody attended and received grades in those classes. That is academic fraud.

    That is the main issue. The athletic department knew exactly what they were doing. They handed these kids class schedules without the input of the "student-athlete" and didn't give two cents about the kid other than their performance on the field. UNC is in the business of education but they seem to have forgotten that. It is fraudulent, morally wrong and they treated these kids as sacrificial lambs (no pun intended) for the greater good of the Athletics Department. It is so clear and easy. UNC just needs to admit it, correct it and move on but they are in denial and it is sad because the kids are the ones who got hurt in this the most.

  • Alex25 Apr 15, 2014

  • heelsforever Apr 14, 2014

    View quoted thread

    Makes one really wonder about a place like ECU where many former Tar Heels and Wolfpackers have shown up after being booted out of those schools.

  • Objective Scientist Apr 14, 2014

    I am a 3 degree holder from UNC-CH, a very long time alumnus and HUGE fan of the University in totality, not just of the athletic program/teams, although I love for the Heels to win on the fields, courts. From that perspective I have these thoughts: Even if the hired "experts" are qualified to make the judgments they did and were objective in doing so... their findings are tainted by the fact that the UNC chose, hired, paid them - and articulated their mission. Experts: "OK, you are paying me to do what?" I'd love see the email/letters from UNC to the experts with regard to the specific charge given to the experts. My background enables me to evaluate Willingham's assertions, but I don't have the raw data. The SATA is not the best test of reading ability... but along with lots of other info it tells us something about the athletes. Set "reading levels" aside for one simple question: "Has/does UNC admit athletes who are significantly deficient academically? Answer? YES!

  • PackFan1983 Apr 14, 2014

    2 NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS obtained with ineligible players...UNC is now the Flagship of Fraud to the nation, and a disgrace to the citizens of NC.

  • CHAMPS 17 09 05 93 82 57 24 Apr 14, 2014

    View quoted thread

    You are so wise! Let's call up those research analysts that work for free and see what they think about Willingham's work...

  • Terry Watts Apr 14, 2014
    user avatar

    View quoted thread

    The reviewers weren't "independent". That went out the window when UNC paid them.

  • heelsforever Apr 14, 2014

    Good Lord, now the Swof has somehow coerced Mr. Jefferson's school and two others to join the conspiracy! The man has no limit to his croooked ways.

  • CHAMPS 17 09 05 93 82 57 24 Apr 14, 2014

    View quoted thread

    So you just flat-out don't believe that the reviewers were independent?? They were researchers from other universities! Or wait, maybe Georgia State, UVa and Minnesota are in on the conspiracy!! Nailed it...

  • Terry Watts Apr 14, 2014
    user avatar

    "Outside experts hired by the University" should read "hired mouth piece for University"