Drop SAT/ACT requirement? California decision widely watched

BY MAUREEN DOWNEY
THE ATLANTA JOURNAL CONSTITUTION/TNS

A faculty review of the admissions policies of the University of California System recommended the ACT and SAT remain a requirement of applicants to its 10 campuses.

A year in the making and anticipated by both sides in the testing debate, the preliminary faculty recommendations represent a setback for critics who maintain the ACT and SAT reflect family income and parent education rather than student merit.

Those critics believe a decision by the mega California system to drop testing requirements could compel other states to follow suit.

In its findings, the Academic Senate Standardized Testing Task Force recommended against the increasing attempts — both in the courts and the public square — to make standardized tests optional for public college applicants in California.

Different views

In November, UC Berkeley chancellor Carol Christ came out in favor of abandoning the SAT/ACT requirement.

In December, the Compton Unified School District filed a lawsuit against the University of California, alleging the testing mandate discriminates against college applicants with disabilities, low-income students and racial and ethnic minorities.

The task force said its research didn’t show the use of test scores worsened the effects of disparities already present among California applicants, because the admissions process blunted the potential adverse effect of score differences between groups when necessary.

California now considers test scores within the context of the high schools the applicants attended and whether students performed well in light of the opportunities they had.

Performance indicators

The faculty review set out to answer key questions about admissions tests. Among them: How well do the University of California’s current standardized testing practices assess student readiness?

Pretty well, according to the faculty review, which found the SAT and ACT are more reliable indicators of student performance in college than high school grade point average, noting that growing grade inflation has diminished the predictive power of the GPA.

The review concluded that test scores “are currently better predictors of first-year GPA than high school grade point average, and about as good at predicting first year retention, undergraduate GPA, and graduation and higher likelihood of graduating within either four years (for transfers) or seven years (for freshmen).”

Disparities an issue

A major issue for critics of testing has been the racial and ethnic disparities on California campuses. In 2019, only 37% of in-state students in the admitted freshman class were Latino, African American, and Native American.

Yet, about 59% of California high school graduates were underrepresented minorities.

The report addressed that concern and said UC considers students’ circumstances and opportunities when evaluating test scores, noting that admissions practices compensated for differences in test scores among demographic groups and weighed students’ performance within the context of their school.

The recommendations go now to the full Academic Senate and then to University of California President Janet Napolitano in April. The final decision will then be made by the University of California Board of Regents.

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