Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Academic fraud at FSU?

Seems to be all about the Seminoles this week. Except this time it's not the actual Seminoles, its the student-athletes at Florida State who call themselves Seminoles.
The academic cheating issues at FSU have been covered. The school was investigated for a fairly widespread cheating scandal involving an online course.
But ESPN's Outside the Lines has brought to light an interesting component of academic support in FSU athletics: the prevalence of student-athletes diagnosed as learning disabled (LD). It's a very thorough report that talks to specialists, a former member of the academic support team there (she was fired for allegedly providing too much help), and LD specialists--including the one FSU uses to diagnose their athletes. He is an outsider but gets paid $800 per test he gives to FSU students. He was very candid about the process but the article noted that his testing method is controversial. The model he uses produces an LD diagnosis at almost twice the rate of the other two accepted models. And around 80 percent of the tests he gives to FSU student athletes come back with an LD diagnosis.
Some students come in already diagnosed or already labelled as at-risk students, but some get diagnosed upon entrance. A diagnosis allows for certain accommodations and even waivers to NCAA rules about academic progress.
What it seems is that there are a lot of LD student-athletes at FSU. A third of the football team and 75 percent of the basketball team has an LD diagnosis. At Arizona State the rate is about 10 percent for both football and basketball. The rate of LD in the general population is between 5 and 10 percent.
I think those numbers should give the NCAA pause. No data exist to show the percentage of LD student-athletes across NCAA schools. But it might be time to start tracking diagnoses and implementing regulations about how academic support programs within athletics (FSU has one that costs $1.5 million) are run.

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