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The Daily Tar Heel

BREAKING: UNC releases outside review of Mary Willingham's research

CORRECTION: Previous versions of this story mischaracterized the nature of the review board and its findings. The outside experts acted as three separate investigators. UNC's Provost Office issued the internal review. The outside review found that the test used to gauge reading levels was not a valid test of reading. This story has been changed to reflect this information. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for the error.

This story has been updated to reflect these changes as well us updates in the story.

UPDATE (4:31 p.m.): Mary Willingham, the tutor at the center of the research, responded to the press release in an email.

"For now I will just say that the University neglected to take even the most basic steps to ensure the integrity, impartiality, and fairness of its supposedly 'independent' review of my data," she said. 

"The fact that they engaged in this exercise without ever seeking input from me or my research partner, and without the raw scores, or an examination of the full battery of tests (on a majority of these same athletes) available in Accessibility Resources speaks volumes about the true motivations behind today's press release." 

UPDATE (3:30 p.m.): The outside review of former athletic tutor Mary Willingham’s research determined the test she used on student-athletes could not accurately gauge their reading level.

“The data do not support public claims about the students’ reading ability,” the press release issued Friday said.

Willingham said her research determined that 60 percent of a sample of 183 athletes were not college-literate. She said she used the Scholastic Abilities Test for Adults and SAT scores to evaluate literacy levels, as well as ACT scores, GPA’s, credit hours and academic standing information.

“While SATA RV (the 25-question, multiple choice vocabulary subtest) results can be informative as part of screening for learning differences and/or disabilities, they are not accepted by the psychological community as an appropriate measure of reading grade level and literacy," the press release said.

The board hired by UNC this spring made its announcement today, four months after Willingham first publicly announced her research findings in a CNN article.

The members of the review board, who UNC did not reveal until today, included Nathan Kuncel with the University of Minnesota, Lee Alan Branum-Martin of Georgia State University and Dennis Kramer with the University of Virginia.

"I looked at the data that was provided to me and examined several of the claims that were made about it, so the report talks about what the data does and doesn't say as far as I'm concerned," Kuncel said in an interview. 

Kuncel said he was paid $5,000 to examine the research and was approached a few weeks ago. He said he had no knowledge or opinions before the scandal broke.

"I hadn't followed sports news and such," he said.

Willingham’s research was also subject to a review by UNC’s Provost Office January.

UNC’s review determined between 2004 and 2012, UNC enrolled 341 men’s and women’s basketball players and football players. Of those, 34 students didn’t meet CNN’s threshold of “college literate” — an SAT score of 400 or 16 on the ACT.

Executive Vice Chancellor and Provost Jim Dean has said that Willingham’s methods of determining literacy, a 10-minute SATA test, were not appropriate.

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