Pressures are mounting on the University of California to drop the use of college admissions tests, with a new round of criticism from several civil rights organizations that the test is biased against low income, black and Latino students.
A coalition of organizations announced Tuesday that it would file suit against the university if UC does not drop the tests as a freshman application requirement.
The threat comes as a faculty committee of the ten-campus UC system is conducting a study about whether to continue requiring the SAT or ACT tests for admissions, eliminate them or somehow get the tests to change. A recommendation on those issues is expected to be released by spring 2020 and then go to the UC Board of Regents for a possible policy shift.
However, the organizations and individuals involved in Tuesday’s announcement said there is no valid reason to wait for that report. They said they have notified UC that, unless the university soon eliminates the testing requirement, they will file a lawsuit in state court claiming that the tests discriminate against African American, Latino and low-income students.
Keeping the testing mandate “is not just bad policy, it is a matter of right and wrong,” said Mark Rosenbaum, a directing attorney at Public Counsel, a Los Angeles-based public interest law firm working on the possible anti-test litigation.
Claire Doan, a spokeswoman for UC, said the university had no immediate reaction to the notification and lawsuit threat. A UC statement noted that the faculty task force is working “to determine whether SAT and ACT tests are useful measures of academic performance for the admissions process. The university is currently waiting for the assessment and recommendations from the Academic Senate’s Task Force before determining whether any steps should be taken on this important issue.”
The 23-campus California State University also requires standardized test scores for freshman application. Rosenbaum said his alliance did not seek to change CSU policy right now since he expects that it will change if UC ends the SAT or ACT mandates.
Other groups opposing the tests include College Access Plan, College Seekers, Community Coalition, the Compton Unified School District, the Dolores Huerta Foundation, and Little Manila Rising and the Equal Justice Society.
At a press conference and in documents released Tuesday, the anti-test advocates alleged that the tests’ material and test-taking procedures are biased in favor of whites and some Asians and lead to those groups getting higher scores on average than blacks and Latinos. In addition, preparations for the exams promote inequality, with well-to-do families able to hire expensive tutors or enroll their children in pricey study programs, they said.
Well-qualified students are “subject to unlawful discrimination on the basis of race, disability, and wealth as a result of the requirement that applicants to the University of California submit either SAT or ACT scores in order to be considered for admission,” the alliance said in a statement.
The College Board, which sponsors the SAT, defended the test. “The notion that the SAT is discriminatory is false,” said Zachary Goldberg, a College Board spokesman. He said the statement threatening a lawsuit is “counterproductive to the fact-based, data driven discussion that students, parents and educators deserve.”
Goldberg noted that the SAT was overhauled in 2016 to better measure what students are learning in high school and now emphasizes the skills most needed for college readiness. Any objective test “will shine a light on inequalities” in K-12 education and can be used to help focus those schools on improving, he added.
The UC faculty task force is looking at options beyond simply dumping all standardized tests. These include changes in the material tested by the SAT and ACT; replacing the exams with the state-mandated Smarter Balanced tests, aligned with the Common Core and given in all California high schools; or changing the way test scores are weighted compared with high school grades in making admissions decisions.
The UC regents’ ultimate decision will be enormously influential just by the sheer number of freshman applicants to UC’s nine undergraduate campuses: more than 176,500 students applied last year with most trying to get into several UC schools. Applicants must present scores from either the SAT or ACT exams.
The study will analyze potential impacts of any changes on admissions and graduation rates among various income, ethnic and geographic groups. And it will explore possible unintended results if tests are eliminated, such as pressure on high school teachers to give higher grades and whether some unethical applicants might feel they have to fabricate extracurricular activities.
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