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The University of California should continue to require that applicants for undergraduate admission take standardized college admissions tests like the SAT and ACT, a much-anticipated faculty task force report has recommended. But opponents say they will continue fighting the testing mandate both in court and at the UC Board of Regents.

Unmoved by the new report, critics say that the exams are biased against Latino and black applicants and hurt their admissions chances at UC’s nine undergraduate campuses.

The UC faculty study released Monday says that standardized exams remain good predictors of students’ success at UC at a time when grade inflation in high schools makes it harder to choose potential university freshmen. In fact, the report insists that test results actually help identify many talented Latino, black and low-income students who otherwise might be rejected because their high school grades alone were not high enough.

However, Mark Rosenbaum, an attorney for the Los Angeles-based law firm Public Counsel, which is among several parties suing UC over the exams, criticized the task force report for “its shifting of the blame for the inequities in UC admission from UC’s unlawful use of discriminatory and meaningless tests to the California public school system.”

“Rather than blame California’s students, their families and communities, and their teachers, the University should eliminate all reliance on these discriminatory and meaningless tests, and instead work with the State K-12 system to whatever degree necessary to fulfill UC’s mandate to build a student body that reflects the broad diversity of the State,” he said.

The debate will continue within UC over the next four months. The full faculty’s Academic Assembly is scheduled to make a recommendation in April to UC president Janet Napolitano, who will then deliver her recommendation to the regents board for a final decision in May.

According to a statement from UC president Napolitano’s office, “the University aims to continue deliberating the role of standardized testing in our admissions process through a careful, fact-based approach so as to arrive at the most informed decision possible.”

The College Board, which sponsors the SAT exams, said in a statement that the report showed that “the thoughtful and responsible use of testing by the University of California promotes diversity and success.”

The public release Monday of the task force’s 228-page report is “merely at the start of a process,” Kum-Kum Bhavnani, chair of the system’s Academic Senate, said in a press conference Monday. The final decision “remains to be seen” and will require much more review and deliberation, said Bhavnani, a UC Santa Barbara sociology professor.

The task force insists that UC’s comprehensive review in admissions, which looks at such additional factors as family income and a students’ hardships, compensates for test score differences among racial and ethnic groups.

Other reasons, such as not taking the right pattern of high school courses, are much more important than test scores in influencing why Latinos and blacks are enrolled at the university in numbers that are below their share of California high school populations, according to the report.

“The Task Force did not find evidence that UC’s use of test scores played a major role in worsening the effects of disparities already present among applicants and did find evidence that UC’s admissions process helped to make up for the potential adverse effect of score differences between groups,” the study says.

In fact, “perhaps counterintuitively,” the report says that test scores were better predictors of UC grades and graduation for underrepresented groups than for majority groups. And it raised the possibility that “student diversity could actually decline” without test scores in a state that already produces tens of thousands of high school graduates each year with GPAs exceeding 4.0, bolstered by honors credits and Advanced Placement courses. Grade inflation is most pronounced at wealthy high schools, it notes.

However, the task force kept alive the possibility of making the tests optional in the future and recommended that UC conduct additional research about that possibility.

Bob Schaeffer, public education director of FairTest, a standardized test watchdog group critical of the SAT and ACT, challenged the task force’s position that test scores are better predictors than high school grades of freshman year grade point average. He said that finding contradicts other research, such as that by Saul Geiser, former director of admissions research for the UC system.

While he had hoped for different findings from the task force, Schaeffer said he expects opposition to persist. “The lawsuit against the University of California, which we played a big role in helping build, will continue to move forward,” he said.

In exploring other admissions issues related to testing, the UC faculty task force suggested that UC update the statewide index used to identify UC-eligible students, and possibly expand what is known as the “Eligibility in Local Context (ELC)” which admits students in the top 9 percent of each high school based on their high school grades alone. A new level of 12.5 percent may be explored. The other path to eligibility is based on a state-wide formula that used both high school grades and test results.

In a surprising idea, the report said that UC might develop its own alternative exams over the next nine years that “will assess a broader array of student learning and capabilities than any of the currently available tests.” Such new tests “may enable UC to admit classes of students more representative of the diversity of the state,” according to the task force.

But the faculty group steered far away from a suggestion that it replace the SAT and ACT with the 11th grade Smarter Balanced Assessment administered to high school students. Its members were “deeply concerned with a wide range of risks” that the university would expose itself to if it adopted the Smarter Balanced test as an admission requirement. These include test security and inconsistent implementation of the test across states.

In January last year, the Academic Senate representing UC faculty established an 18-member Standardized Testing Task Force, at Napolitano’s request. It was asked to evaluate “without prejudice or presupposition” whether the university and students are “best served by our current testing practices.”

Henry Sanchez, a UC San Francisco pathology professor who was co-chair of the task force, said the group did not take an internal vote on the final document but instead built a consensus through much research and discussion. “Are there going to be people on the task force that may not agree with every component? That may be true but I think if you look at it, the recommendations are based on solid, thoughtful and mindful discourse,” he said Monday at the press conference.

The task force’s recommendations ran contrary to the views of several top UC officials, including UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ, who have argued in favor of eliminating the use of the admissions tests. By virtue of UC’s size and prestige, a decision to eliminate the test requirement there is likely to impact universities nationwide.

In December, civil rights organizations and the Compton School District followed through with their threat and filed lawsuits demanding that the UC stop requiring that applicants take the SAT or ACT entrance exams for freshman college admission. The lawsuits, filed in Superior Court in Alameda County, contend that the test mandate “systematically and unlawfully denies talented and qualified students with less accumulated advantage a fair opportunity to pursue higher education at the UC.”

The 23-campus California State University also requires standardized test scores for freshman application. The litigants said they did not seek to change CSU’s policy now since they expect that it will change if UC ends the SAT or ACT mandates.

EdSource reporter Louis Freedberg contributed to this report.

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  1. Bo Loney 6 months ago6 months ago

    Shouldn't the fact that some kids do really well on tests be actual evidence of a form of "grit" and performance under pressure that is needed in the tech age? The report shows that the tests predict how well the student will do at University. I would bet they show how well the student will do in the workforce as well. I'm not saying that other students won't do well as well, I'm just … Read More

    Shouldn’t the fact that some kids do really well on tests be actual evidence of a form of “grit” and performance under pressure that is needed in the tech age?

    The report shows that the tests predict how well the student will do at University. I would bet they show how well the student will do in the workforce as well. I’m not saying that other students won’t do well as well, I’m just saying the report clearly states the test scores are proof for that particular cohort.

    Also, AP classes are needed for the group of students that has been put on the back burner for way too long. The gifted community of all races is also a protected minority under Obama’s Every Student Succeeds Act. It can take years for a gifted child to find challenge in the classroom. Challenge that is provided daily to most students. This is actually another form of adversity.

    Also, I think people need to be more careful about the message you are sending to young people. The current message seems to be the melanin level with the most people needs to be put first and if you don’t have that skin color, your dreams don’t matter as much. Which, to me, seems like the exact same systematic problems people are using to now fight to put a majority first again.

    I feel like it’s only a matter of time before people get fed up and a justified lawsuit happens. Since the population number is not what it was 70 years ago, how about building more universities, making more room and taking classes to online format? How about using the tech we are blessed with to actually open up more opportunity for all?

  2. Frances O'Neill Zimmerman 6 months ago6 months ago

    Let's hope when the entire UC Faculty Senate votes later this spring on the proposal to eliminate the private College Board's cash-cow SAT/ACT as a UC undergraduate admission requirement, it will strike a blow for a new UC standard rather than this tired corporate rip--off "predictor" of college success. "Tripe" is contracting out "testing" to the College Board behemoth which developed its national SAT exam long ago, in an era when most college students … Read More

    Let’s hope when the entire UC Faculty Senate votes later this spring on the proposal to eliminate the private College Board’s cash-cow SAT/ACT as a UC undergraduate admission requirement, it will strike a blow for a new UC standard rather than this tired corporate rip–off “predictor” of college success.

    “Tripe” is contracting out “testing” to the College Board behemoth which developed its national SAT exam long ago, in an era when most college students were white. Today the exam is unevenly administered, discourages and discriminates against highly-qualified high school students who may be poor, children of color or just poor test-takers. The College Board company further enables special privilege by offering a padded Grade Point Average for those high school students who are able to pay for, take and pass its array of costly Advanced Placement courses and exams. A deplorable side-effect of the College Board’s high-stakes SAT/ACT exams is the expensive private test-prep industry.

    The University of California is a great public research institution. We are well into the 21st century now and UC ought to develop its own new standards for undergraduate admission that are congruent with its broad democratic aspirations and values.

  3. Catherine A 6 months ago6 months ago

    These groups that want to do away with SAT and ACT score consideration are the same ones that fought for diversity points to be included with UC and CSU applications, where students get additional points based on family income and first generation college students, neither of which have anything to do with predicting a student's success in College. And they're going to keep on pushing. And their tripe about these tests favoring the wealthy because they … Read More

    These groups that want to do away with SAT and ACT score consideration are the same ones that fought for diversity points to be included with UC and CSU applications, where students get additional points based on family income and first generation college students, neither of which have anything to do with predicting a student’s success in College. And they’re going to keep on pushing.

    And their tripe about these tests favoring the wealthy because they can afford test prep is more lunacy. My daughter only took test prep via Khan Academy. It was free. She scored 99th percentile in both her SAT and ACT. That same resource is available to all kids, and lower income students can get their test fees paid for. So these groups need to seriously focus their efforts on letting the kids they are so worried about find the free resources and prepare for the tests.

  4. Erik Kengaard 6 months ago6 months ago

    Critics say that the exams are biased against Latino and black applicants ? Did they say why the exams are biased … or are they just unhappy with the results?

  5. Bo Loney 6 months ago6 months ago

    I'm reading the 228 page report with charts and actual numbers. It clearly states that the SAT IS a better indication of a student's readiness for success and retention at University than HSGPA is. It is also a better predictor of the years it takes to complete a degree. Also, they present compelling evidence that all grades are not the same across high schools and the affects of grade inflation on … Read More

    I’m reading the 228 page report with charts and actual numbers. It clearly states that the SAT IS a better indication of a student’s readiness for success and retention at University than HSGPA is. It is also a better predictor of the years it takes to complete a degree. Also, they present compelling evidence that all grades are not the same across high schools and the affects of grade inflation on first year students drop out rates. I bet they were caught off guard by how many really incredibly impressive students that slipped through the cracks too.

    Replies

    • Bo Loney 6 months ago6 months ago

      "I bet they were caught off guard by how many really incredibly impressive students that slipped through the cracks too." By this I mean, the admission cracks. They are losing a lot of talent to other universities. This is raising admission standards at the lesser schools as well. At a time when articles are coming out about the country with the best AI will rule the world, it would be in … Read More

      “I bet they were caught off guard by how many really incredibly impressive students that slipped through the cracks too.” By this I mean, the admission cracks. They are losing a lot of talent to other universities. This is raising admission standards at the lesser schools as well. At a time when articles are coming out about the country with the best AI will rule the world, it would be in our best interest to really pay attention to the really high scores. If you know about that particular bell curve and what it really means to score at that level, you know those don’t just happen from money and tutoring. That is talent proving itself.