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UNC Comes Out Swinging Against Athlete Literacy Research Findings

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North Carolina coach Roy Williams reacts to a defensive stop by the Tar Heels during the second half against the UNCW Seahawks at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill, N.C., on Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2013. (Robert Willett/Raleigh News & Observer/MCT via Getty Images)
North Carolina coach Roy Williams reacts to a defensive stop by the Tar Heels during the second half against the UNCW Seahawks at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill, N.C., on Tuesday, Dec. 31, 2013. (Robert Willett/Raleigh News & Observer/MCT via Getty Images)

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina's top academic officer said Friday that reading specialist Mary Willingham's findings on athlete literacy levels are flawed, though she stands firm that her research is "100 percent correct."

In a meeting of the school's faculty council, provost James W. Dean Jr. said there is "absolutely no basis whatsoever in the dataset to make any claim about the literacy of our student-athletes."

In a CNN story last week, Willingham said her research of 183 football or basketball players at UNC from 2004-12 found 60 percent reading at fourth- to eighth-grade levels and roughly 10 percent below a third-grade level. Dean said the findings were based largely on standardized scores in a 10-minute timed vocabulary test that isn't an appropriate way to measure literacy levels.

Dean called it "flawed analysis" and said it was unfair to use the data to say students can't read. Dean said the school will have outside consultants review their analysis of Willingham's data.

"I'm not playing some kind of trick with this data," Dean said. "This isn't marginal. This is really quite central to the claims that have been made. And I take no joy in this. I think it's very sad, actually."

The school has stopped Willingham's research until she receives approval from the school's Institutional Review Board (IRB), saying she can't continue to use data with information that could identify the subjects.

In an email to The Associated Press, Willingham said she is scheduled to go before the review board next week to go through the approval process.

"My data is 100 percent correct," Willingham said. "In addition, I worked with the overwhelming majority of the students in the data set on reading and writing skills between 2004 and 2010.

"It's interesting that my IRB was pulled and I was told that I could not talk about it until it was resolved, meanwhile the provost is allowed to discuss the findings. That is what is truly erroneous about all of this — and at a research university — wow. At UNC we protect our brand at all costs."

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