Aside from temporary COVID-19 suspension, UC looks to keep SAT/ACT requirements in admissions process

Aside from temporary COVID-19 suspension, UC looks to keep SAT/ACT requirements in admissions process

Photo Credits: KAITLYN PANG / AGGIE

UC Assembly of the Academic Senate unanimously approves task force recommendation for the continued use of SAT/ACT in admissions

UC Academic Senate Chair Kum-Kum Bhavnani sent a letter to UC President Janet Napolitano on April 18 reporting unanimous support from the Assembly of the Academic Senate for the continued use of the SAT and ACT in UC admissions for at least the next five years. 

The Assembly voted 51-0, with one abstention, in support of the recommendations from a report written by a six-member subcommittee of the 18-member UC Standardized Testing Task Force (STTF), first founded in 2019. 

In pursuit of admitting students who will succeed at the UC and be representative of the population of California, the report gave six key recommendations. Among these recommendations was the expansion of eligibility in the local context — which currently admits to the UC the top 9% of students from participating high schools — and the development of a new UC assessment system to “assess a broader array of student learning and capabilities than any of the currently available tests.” The task force plans for this new assessment system to ultimately replace the use of the SAT and ACT in admissions.

Other recommendations include a review of the components that determine the statewide eligibility index, increased research about factors that contribute to disproportionate representation, a study and expansion of academic support resources for students and further analysis of current standardized tests.

Using data collected by the UC of systemwide admissions and student outcomes, the STTF found that standardized test scores are an equal or better indicator of undergraduate grade point average, retention and degree completion than high school GPAs. 

The STTF also found “mean differences in standardized test scores between different demographic groups are often very large, and many of the ways these tests could be used in admissions would certainly produce strong disparate impacts between groups,” according to the report. 

They also, however, found that admission practices compensated well for these large differences in test scores, likely due to the use of comprehensive review and the practice of assessing each student in the context of their school. In the end, the task force concluded that UC admission practices do not fully make up for the disparities that exist between different races and classes. 

“That’s the fundamental problem in this state — that the schooling that students receive is so incredibly unequal, depending on their socio-economic background, race and other things, that some schools prepare students very well to take these tests and other schools don’t do so at all,” said Patricia Gándara, a member of the STTF. “And it’s not the student’s fault. ”

This sentiment has been echoed across the state as calls for the UC to drop the SAT and ACT in admissions have grown. Many claim that standardized tests discriminate on the basis of race, wealth and disability. 

“So in fact, the SAT as an admissions criteria is really just a proxy for wealth and majority status,” said Interim Legal Director of the Equal Justice Society Lisa Holder. 

Holder was one of several who signed on to a letter sent to the UC Regents in October of 2019 demanding the removal of the SAT and ACT from the UC admissions process.

“The UC is not reaching its own mandate, and, more importantly, the UC is violating the equal protection laws of California which require that all Californians, regardless of race, gender, and disability status, have equal opportunity to access public colleges as long as they are high performing students, and are hitting all of the important benchmarks of excellence in secondary school,” Holder said.

Holder fundamentally disagrees with the STTF report and questions both the validity of the data used in the report and, in turn, the conclusions of the task force. Additionally, Holder takes issue with the report’s recommendation to expand eligibility in the local context, as data has shown that the only UC campus which admits these students is UC Merced, and the vast majority chose not to attend.

Sarah Reber, an associate professor of public policy at UCLA shares this stance. Of those students who qualified for eligibility in the local context in 2018, about 12,500 of them ended up with an offer to UC Merced alone. Only 168 chose to enroll. Reber said it is important to understand that expanding eligibility in the local context is “not going to do anything to enhance diversity.” 

“We should be looking for other solutions if that is our goal, and I think it should be our goal,” Reber said. 

A piece written by Reber, UC Davis professor Michal Kurlaender and UC Berkeley professor Jesse Rothstein, suggests that for eligibility in the local context to be truly impactful, each campus should guarantee admission to some percentage of top students from every California high school. 

Reber also took issue with the task force’s easy dismissal of other assessment options, such as the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium exam (SBAC), a test already administered at all public California high schools. Using the SBAC in UC admissions “would create an alignment between what the higher education system says students should be doing to show that they’re college ready and what K-12 is signaling about what [students] should be doing,” Reber said.

Another benefit of using the SBAC is that it is administered to all students during school and free of charge. 

The reality of the STTF report, according to Gándara, is that many of those on the task force were skeptical of the equity of SAT and ACT, but recognized that a replacement would take years to develop.

“We endorsed the recommendation because included there was the idea that we would be pursuing a better kind of assessment [in the meantime],” Gándara said. 

Additionally, Gándara explained that even though the task force agreed on the final report, there was a fundamental difference in opinion between the task force members about whether student success once at a university should be an overriding concern. The report claims that the SAT and ACT are the best predictors of performance.

“There was considerable concern on the part of a number of the committee members that we needed to be looking at how we equalize opportunity and how we create an admissions process that is most fair and equitable for all students,” Gándara said. 

The SAT and ACT are not just used in admissions.

“Standardized test scores are also used to report to the state to show that we require higher standards for non-resident students that are admitted to UC compared to California residents,” said UC Davis Professor and task force member James Griesemer.

Beyond comparison between in-state and out of state students, SAT and ACT scores are also used as placement exams and used to show proficiency in some subject areas. They are also used in longer term analysis of student groups in the UC, helping to provide more resources.

At the prospect of getting rid of the test entirely, Griesemer posed a question: “How much risk should we take in making things worse rather than better in the short to medium term by just getting rid of the test?”

The report issued by the STTF hopes there is a more nuanced answer.

“If standardized test scores must be compensated in order to achieve the entering class sought by UC, that is reason to question whether it is necessary to use the tests at all, and/or whether it is possible to design an alternative instrument that does not require such compensation,” the report said.

Written by: Jessica Baggott — campus@theaggie.org