August 21, 2003

I'm so perfect, I don't need to study

The good news? Mark Edmonson, a Guilford County (NC) high school senior, made a perfect score of 1600 on his SATs. Fewer than 1% of students do so each year, so it's an impressive achievement.

The bad news? UNC-Chapel Hill, which is his intended destination, temporarily suspended his admission because his grades dropped precipitously during his senior year. That year, he had C's, D's, and F's on his report card, and his overall GPA dropped from 3.8 to 3.5. Despite allegations of a letter from UNC that listed graduation as the only condition necessary for Mark's acceptance, it seems the university has changed its mind about his academic preparedness.

The worst news? He's suing.

A Guilford County high school graduate who recorded a perfect SAT score is suing UNC Chapel Hill, alleging the school refused to admit him after his grade point average dropped. Mark Edmonson, a National Merit Scholarship finalist, scored a perfect 1,600 on his SAT last year, but his grade point average fell from 3.8 to 3.5 in his senior year at Northwest Guilford High School. He wants a judge to force UNC to admit him as a freshman this year.Edmonson said in an affidavit filed in Orange County that university officials backed out of an April letter promising that as long as Edmonson graduated from Northwest, he would be admitted.

But a follow-up letter from UNC said Edmonson's admission had been temporarily suspended because his grades dropped during his senior year. Thomas Ziko, a special deputy attorney general, said Edmonson's SAT scores are only part of what UNC takes into account in deciding who should be admitted. Other factors, Ziko said, include declining grades. "His senior year grades are C's, D's and F's," Ziko said.

Begging to Differ is there with the smackdown on this senioritis sufferer:

Sigh. Though I feel a twinge of pity for the kid, if I met him I would have no choice but to do my best Sam Kinison impression and scream, "You dumbass! You blew off senior year! You have no one to blame but yourself! Since you aced the SAT, you must know the meaning of HUBRIS!!"


If you believe this article, Edmonson is probably screwed. According to a representative of the Center for Individual Rights, "The Supreme Court has recognized the principal of academic freedom, and one element of that is deciding who gets into the university."

Tough luck, bro, but this could be the best thing that ever happens to you. You're unlikely ever again to pull such a bonehead move as long as you live, and anyway, there's always N.C. State.

Yeah, I'd say Mark's Standard English vocabulary is pretty well developed, but I have the feeling his legal vocabulary is getting ready to expand as well. Did UNC indeed send him a letter stating that the only obstacle standing in the way of admission was graduation? Was there any mention in that letter of his GPA or his senior year grades? If Mark had no idea that those grades would count, well, I don't agree with slackerdom, but who's to say Mark didn't blow off class to work at the Gap to raise money for school?

What isn't mentioned in this article is that, at least in the 1990's, UNC would offer the chance to apply only to students in the certain top n% of their class, at least for certain high-performing public high schools (such as Chapel Hill High). While a 3.5 GPA isn't sucky, it also isn't valedictorian level, and dropping from 3.8 to 3.5 might have seriously affected Mark's class rank. Is this rule still in force, and is it what's driving UNC's decision?

I believe that UNC should have the right to admit whomever they decide is academically prepared, but I think the issue in this lawsuit is going to be whether Mark was misled to believe that his late senior-year grades, or his total GPA, didn't count once he was tentatively accepted. UNC can make the rules, but they can't conceal the rules from applicants, nor can they change them mid-stream.

Of course, as a UNC alumna, I can understand why Mark would want to be a Tarheel rather than part of the Wolfpack, but that's a whole 'nother story.

Update: Ooo! Ooo! Begging to Differ's been doing some research, and this Durham Herald-Sun article has more, much more:

By all accounts, Edmonson was a good prospect for college. A National Merit finalist who recently incorporated his own Internet computer company, the Northwest High School graduate received the highest possible score on the SAT...In an April letter offering Edmonson admission, a UNC official wrote that competition was "keen" and that the scholar was chosen from a "remarkable group of students." But the same letter warned Edmonson not to slack off at all during his senior year[Emphasis mine].

"Because we want you to finish strongly and come to Carolina ready to excel, your enrollment will depend upon your successful completion of your current academic year," wrote Jerry Lucido, UNC's director of undergraduate admissions. "We expect you to continue to achieve at the same level that enabled us to provide this offer of admission; we also expect you to graduate on time."
[Again, emphasis mine]

So what's going on? Why did he slack off after being warned? Well, Mark and his family claim that UNC rescinded their offer after a disastrous meeting in July, at which Mark was (allegedly) not given the opportunity to explain his failing grades or his health problems, which related to medication taken for attention-deficit disorder. The family's lawyer claims that Mark's perfect score was "held against him," as though the school wanted to take him down a notch or two.

Let's see: Brilliant student, disability, request for special treatment, complaints of school discrimination, wildly-varying accounts of private meetings, lawsuit, family attorney mouthing off, student unavailable for comment. The parallels are striking, folks.

At UNC, officials are also being tight-lipped, citing pending litigation. Speaking generally, Lucido, the admissions official, said his office, on a regular, if not frequent basis, recalls applicants to review their cases if their grades have dropped during their senior year.

"This sort of thing is a standard and accepted practice among selective colleges and universities," Lucido said Tuesday. "We always tell students that their enrollment will be contingent on their achieving, in their senior year, on the same level that enabled us to admit them."

So, will the lawsuit continue? Do we have "Blair II: The Deep South Version" on our hands? Remains to be seen, folks; remains to be seen.

Update: Commenter Frank Admissions found another news article on this, which makes me wonder about the claim that mistreated ADD was the cause of the bad grades:

...a lawyer from the state attorney general's office argued that forcing the university to admit a student would pose a threat to academic freedom. Thomas Ziko, a special deputy attorney general, said Edmonson's SAT scores are only part of what UNC-CH takes into account in deciding who should be admitted. Other factors, Zwiko said, include declining grades.

"His senior year grades are Cs, Ds and Fs," Ziko said. If his grade point average was based solely on his senior year, Edmonson would have had a grade point average of 1.3, Ziko said.

When asked to explain the drop in grades, Edmonson wrote a letter to UNC-CH admitting his grades were "abysmal" and fell short of what UNC-CH wanted, Ziko said...

Edmonson failed a computer science class and received a D in an American government class. But at Monday's hearing, Edmonson's attorney Marshall Hurley said his client went on to pass advanced placement, or college level, tests in those courses...

Edmonson said his grades suffered during his senior year in part because of an adjustment in medication he was taking for a mild form of attention deficit disorder.

He said he didn't mention that in the letter to UNC-CH explaining his decline in grades because Davis wanted assurances he was sorry it happened, not excuses.

Ok, let me get this straight. A kid smart enough to have a 1600 SAT and a 3.8 GPA gets admitted to UNC. His grades then plummet to a 1.3 GPA, but he passes AP exams in courses that he failed. He writes a letter to UNC omitting ADD as a reason for the decline, but then brings it up in the July appeals meeting. Something's not adding up.

I've tutored college students with ADD. When they're not on their medication, they don't read to the ends of sentences and items, so they miss stuff. They miss it in class, they miss it in textbooks, they miss it (especially) on exams. If Edmonson's ADD was not being correctly treated, to the point that he was bombing class tests despite effort, he would have bombed the AP exams as well.

Senioritis, though, would explain this. The kid is smart. He could have slacked off in class and crammed for the AP exams because he thought that his high school grades didn't count anymore, but he knew he'd get college credit for passing AP tests, so those did count. Tests that counted for college credit, he did well on; tests that were related to high school that he thought UNC wouldn't care about, he didn't.

He gets called on it and apologizes, but doesn't provide a reason. Then he realizes he better produce a reason, and that's when the claim of medications and ADD comes in.

I'm not saying that's what happened. I'm saying that's one explanation for the facts above.

Posted by kswygert at August 21, 2003 11:12 AM