National Merit Bullies Counselor To Shield Award Bias

University Testing

FairTest Examiner, May 2010

The National Merit Scholarship Corporation (NMSC), long criticized for running a biased tuition aid competition based primarily on test scores, has once again demonstrated its arrogance and lack of accountability. This past winter, NMSC officials tried to block the internet posting of state-by-state, minimum test score requirements for its awards. But a strong response by FairTest exposed the censorship attempt and kept the information public.

Nancy Griesemer, an independent college counselor in Northern Virginia who had included a cut-off-score chart on her website, received a letter from NMSC’s legal firm stating, “[W]e strongly request you remove compilations of NMSC data.” The letter was titled “re: Unauthorized Use of National Merit Scholarship Materials.” Fearing a potentially expensive lawsuit, Ms. Griesemer took down the figures.

Told of the incident, FairTest stepped in to support Ms. Griesemer by posting a revised version of the state-by-state cut-score list on the web, In a news release encouraging journalists to disseminate the state-by-state requirements, FairTest said, “National Merit’s bullying tactics are a ham-handed attempt to hide its biased process.”

In fact, NMSC has long used state quotas to assure geographic balance. As a result, minimum score requirements for scholarship eligibility differ widely across the country. For the high school class of 2010, state scholarship eligibility minimums range from 221 to 201 on the qualifying exam’s 60 to 240- point scale,


At the same time, however, NMSC has made no effort to address the huge income, racial and gender disparities in its awards. The skew stems from NMSC’s misuse of minimum test scores to eliminate 98.5% of scholarship seekers, no matter how strong their other credentials.

For two decades, FairTest has led a national coalition of education reform, civil rights, and women’s organizations campaigning to overhaul NMSC’s eligibility rules. A FairTest-initiated gender bias complaint against the College Board and Educational Testing Service forced revisions in the scholarship-qualifying exam, which the companies cosponsor with NMSC No changes, however, have been made to address other concerns about bias in the competition. Upper-income white and Asians males still appear to receive the lion’s share of the awards.

More recently, the National Association for College Admissions Counseling (NACAC) joined critics of NMSC’s process However, NACAC’s calls for reform were also rebuffed by NMSC. In the past several years, the University of California and University of Texas at Austin stopped sponsoring National Merit Scholarships.