UC system sued over use of standardized tests in admissions process

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A group of students and nonprofit organizations filed a lawsuit against the UC system Tuesday to end the requirement of SAT and ACT scores in the UC application process.

The lawsuit alleges that standardized tests illegally discriminate against students based on wealth and race and violate the Equal Protection Clause of the California Constitution.

Mark Rosenbaum, an attorney at pro bono law firm Public Counsel, which is representing some of the plaintiffs, said a similar lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Compton Unified School District and it is likely that the two lawsuits will be combined.

“We filed this because each year tens of thousands of students — principally students from low-income families and from underrepresented groups — are being impaired in terms of their access to education through the UC system,” Rosenbaum alleged.

The UC system has 30 days to respond to the lawsuit in court, according to Public Counsel attorney Alisa Hartz.

A task force established by the Academic Senate is in the process of determining the SAT’s and ACT’s abilities to gauge academic performance, according to UC spokesperson Claire Doan. She added that the university is waiting for recommendations from the task force.

“We are disappointed that plaintiffs have filed a lawsuit when the University of California has already devoted substantial resources to studying this complex issue and has announced that the Academic Senate’s Task Force will provide recommendations before the end of this academic year,” Doan said in an email.

According to ACT spokesperson Edward Colby, the ACT is a “crucial” indicator of college readiness, and standardized testing is the only measure comparable across schools. Colby added that differences in test scores are reflective of issues in the education system.

College Board spokesperson Jerome White said in an email that the company is committed to combating inequities in education. According to White, the version of the SAT that was introduced in 2016 measures skills necessary for college readiness.

“The notion that the SAT is discriminatory is false,” White said in an email. “As independent researchers and testing experts affiliated with the National Council on Measurement in Education have stated, any objective measure of student achievement will shine a light on inequalities in our education system.”

The tests place an additional burden on students with disabilities, alleged College Seekers executive director Laura Kazan. College Seekers is a nonprofit for “non-traditional” students in California seeking access to higher education and is one of the organizations filing the lawsuit.

Kazan alleged that navigating the standardized testing process for those who need accommodations is a “nightmarish” process.

According to Hartz, removing the standardized test requirement would be a simple way to “make access to higher education so much more equitable.”

Maya Akkaraju is a higher education reporter. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @maya_akkaraju.