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| Thursday, May 21, 2020
UCLA Campus
University of California, Los Angeles, campus. Photo credit: UCLA website.

 

By Matthew Renda

(CN) — The University of California system will no longer use the SAT or ACT standardized tests as a consideration for admission after the UC Regents voted unanimously to discontinue its use during its meeting on Thursday.

“It’s a racist test,” said regent Jay Sures before casting one of 23 votes in favor of making it optional for prospective students until 2025. The UC system will explore alternative standardized tests that don’t have some of the same equity problems as the SAT and ACT.

The move comes as several experts testified that the SAT fails to reflect college readiness and instead measures a student’s access to resources like private tutors to help goose their scores.

“High test scores correspond to high family income,” said Yolanda Coleman-Morgan, vice-provost of enrollment at UCLA. “This has a disproportionate impact on admissions outcomes.”

The UC system, comprised of 10 campuses and some of the most highly esteemed universities in the world, has long grappled with the fact that the demographics of its incoming freshman class often fail to reflect California’s diversity.

Last fall, historically underrepresented minorities like African Americans, Latinos and Native Americans, accounted for 26% of the freshman student body, while California’s population is majority-minority.

UC president Janet Napolitano recommended moving to a testing-optional format for the next two years, where students can take the SAT and submit their scores if they choose, before moving away from the SAT altogether.

“We need to explore the feasibility of a test that is better aligned with what we expect students to have mastered to gain admission to the University of California,” Napolitano said during the hearing.

But some of the regents were less bullish on the idea of crafting another standardized test.

“A new test could be subject to the same problems,” said regent Sherry Lansing, arguing that wealthy families invested in their children’s education will simply enlist tutors to give their students a leg up for whatever format the university system chooses.

Those concerns were echoed by many of the experts who spoke on the possibility of ridding the schools of the SAT, saying high scores and high wealth are only a correlation and did not prove causation.

Furthermore, a strong high school grade point average, abundant extracurricular activities, advanced placement coursework and other aspects of student performance that admissions offices use to assess student achievement also correlate with high family income, in some cases to a higher degree.

“These all correlate to family background so then the question becomes which one do we choose,” said Kim Wilcox, chancellor of UC Riverside.

Wilcox said he runs the most diverse campus in the system with the highest percentage of first-generation students. His admissions office relies on SAT testing to identify which students are likely to flourish in a university setting.

“We rely on SAT in our admissions process and it produces a highly diverse student body,” he said.

Others, like Julian Betts with UC San Diego, said standardized testing is critical to assessing student performance because grade variability throughout different high schools across the state and country renders GPA an unreliable indicator of ability.

“A grade of B means different things at different high schools,” Betts told the regents.

He said the UC system should focus more on how it analyzes the test scores, favoring a more holistic and contextual approach rather than discarding them altogether.

“Admissions offices should want more data on students, not less,” he said.

The UC system’s own academic experts also questioned the wisdom in abandoning standardized testing.

Andrea Hausenstaub told the regents that a lack of standardized testing would impair the university’s ability to identify students likely to adapt and flourish in university life and contribute to the institution’s research mission.

“Admissions tests are helpful for finding students who are likely to succeed at UC and do not account for much underrepresentation,” she said. “This led us to conclude that dropping test scores would probably not diversify the student population and might actually hurt diversity.”

But Napolitano noted the proposal does not recommend jettisoning standardized testing altogether but looks to alter a system in place that appears to reinforce inequities by allowing those with more means to take advantage of tutors and study prep to make students appear more college-ready.

Board of Regents chair John Perez said eschewing the SAT is not solely about racial demographics, but about building an education system that is open to more Californians statewide.

“We have rural students in the far north of the state and other places who are underrepresented too,” he said. “We need urgency to create better and more equitable outcomes.”

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