Here in California’s third largest school district we see Gov. Gavin Newsom’s veto of what was called The Pathways to College Act (Assembly Bill 751) as an unfortunate, missed opportunity to support under-represented students across the state.
This bill would have opened doors to higher education by giving students the opportunity to take a college entrance exam during the school day in class for free, in lieu of the state’s 11th-grade assessment. The California Legislature had overwhelmingly passed the legislation, recognizing the proposal as an effort to level the playing field for students of all backgrounds.
In Long Beach, where we produce more than 5,000 high school graduates a year, we recently saw about 1,000 more high school students meet minimum California State University for admission compared to two years prior. That’s largely because so many more of these students had taken the SAT than before.
Having an SAT score is critical to earning admission to CSU. Many more of our students are taking the SAT these days because our school district offers the exam for free during the school day.
Gov. Gavin Newsom’s veto message implied that using the SAT somehow exacerbates inequities for under-represented students, given that performance on these tests is highly correlated with race and parental income.
The problem with that reasoning is that correlation does not equal causation. On the contrary, denying low-income students access to free college entrance exams during the school day only exacerbates achievement gaps in California.
Educators in Long Beach have considerable experience tackling achievement gaps among students of varying races and socioeconomic backgrounds.
While we still have more work to do in that regard, our various student subgroups perform better than their counterparts in other large California school systems. That was affirmed in the recent Beating the Odds report from the Learning Policy Institute, an independent research institute.
We have succeeded where some others have lagged largely because we live by the pragmatic maxim that if we raise the bar at the same time that we provide the right support for kids, teachers and parents, then students will meet or exceed our expectations.
With two-thirds of our families unable to afford school meals, a free SAT opens up college opportunities for thousands more students who may not have previously considered themselves to be college material.
Our school-day SAT administrations, combined with individualized Khan Academy video tutorials, Saturday SAT prep sessions at our schools and other free, customized support for students, are working.
Significantly more students are becoming eligible for college admission. Our students seize these college prep opportunities with appreciation and gusto, arriving on time at 8 a.m. Saturday SAT prep sessions in droves because so many of their families do not have the resources it would take to obtain such tutoring privately.
A growing body of evidence shows that offering a college entrance exam like the SAT at no cost to students during the school day propels more students into college — and low-income students benefit the most.
When more students are able to take college admissions tests like the SAT, more underrepresented students can be connected directly to scholarships; free, personalized test practice tools and college application fee waivers.
The Pathways to College Act would have helped to prevent college admissions cheating by offering college admissions exams at school during the school day. Administering college admissions tests during the school day maintains a secure, reliable test environment by using school-appointed proctors who are familiar with their students.
The Pathways legislation also would have ensured that students with disabilities are provided their official, certified accommodations as requested by their dedicated specialists at school – accommodations such as access to testing instructions in their primary language, bilingual glossaries and extended testing time.
Almost all colleges and universities accept college entrance exams like the SAT; the vast majority of them require one. As California’s leaders look to close the achievement gap, denying low-income and under-represented minority students the ability to take these exams in school for free is a step backward.
Christopher J. Steinhauser is superintendent of the Long Beach Unified School District. He also serves on the Board of Trustees for the California State University system.
The opinions in this commentary are those of the author. If you would like to submit a commentary, please review our guidelines and contact us.
To get more reports like this one, click here to sign up for EdSource’s no-cost daily email on latest developments in education.