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Dr. Saturday

North Carolina refutes claims of learning specialist, says conclusions are ‘virtually meaningless’

Nick Bromberg
Dr. Saturday

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(USA Today Sports Images)

North Carolina officials vehemently disagree with the findings of learning specialist Mary Willingham and said Friday that her claims are the results of misinterpreted data.

Earlier in the week, Willingham filed a "declaration" of support for athletes in a U.S. District Court in California. In that declaration she said that about 60 percent of 182 athletes she surveyed from 2005-12 had fourth-to-eighth grade reading levels and 39 percent had learning disabilities.

Willingham turned her data over to UNC officials who presented their findings Friday at a faculty meeting. She said her findings were based off Scholastic Abilities Test for Adults.

From the Raleigh News & Observer:

The test she used to diagnose reading skill, Provost Jim Dean said, was a vocabulary test that should not be used alone to judge overall literacy. And, he added, Willingham misinterpreted the results of the data, rendering her conclusions “virtually meaningless.”

“Using this data set to say that our students can’t read is a travesty and unworthy of this university,” Dean said. “These claims have been unfair to the students, unfair to the admissions officers, unfair to the university.”

Willingham also said that 17 players on the 2013 UNC football team had a combined GPA of 2.3. On Thursday, the school barred her research until she's approved by a review board. Willingham told the AP that she would go through the application process.

She is one of the people who have helped shed light on many no-show classes that North Carolina athletes were attending in the African and Afro-American studies department.

Earlier in the week, Willingham was also named as a witness in the Ed O'Bannon case. The lawsuit, led by the former UCLA basketball player, challenges the NCAA's current structure regarding the use of athletes' likenesses.

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Nick Bromberg is the assistant editor of Dr. Saturday on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at or follow him on Twitter!

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