The UC system recently abolished the usage of the SAT/ACT in admissions. Its reason for the move was to support Latinx and Black applicants, who tend to have lower SAT/ACT scores than other applicants do.
However, the UC system’s decision was made in an outright disregard for the opinions of the UC Academic Senate’s leadership assembly, consisting of the top professors from each UC campus, who voted unanimously in a 51-0 decision to keep the SAT/ACT.
The UC Academic Council’s Standardized Testing Task Force conducted 18 months of research and analysis, producing a report in favor of keeping the SAT/ACT. A closer analysis reveals that eliminating the SAT/ACT will hinder the ability of colleges to predict applicants’ future college success, rendering their admissions systems more prone to bias and subjectivity and more likely to adversely affect low-income applicants. This will disproportionately harm Black and Latinx applicants, who, according to a 2018 survey by the U.S. Census Bureau, on average, have lower incomes than whites and Asians do.
A recent article in the New York Times purports that SAT scores should not be considered in admissions, citing a study by the College Board, which demonstrated that grades are a more accurate predictor of future college success than SAT scores are.
However, the Times’ portrayal of the study is misleading. The article ignores the fact that the study actually shows that using both SAT scores and grades is the best predictor of future college success. Merely relying on grades to predict college success led to a huge margin of error. Therefore, the UC system should handily utilize both measures of students’ aptitudes, not one or the other.
Furthermore, the SAT/ACT is the singular great equalizer that holds students to an objective standard. College applicants come from schools with vastly different curriculums, resources and teacher quality. Grading systems and standards vary immensely, making grades partly dependent on the student’s learning environment, in addition to the student’s actual abilities.
Without the SAT/ACT, there would be no objective test that reveals a schools’ inadequacies, let alone a common yardstick to measure student achievement, handing schools a free pass to inflate grades without getting caught. A 2018 study by Seth Gershenson, an associate professor at American University, shows that grade inflation is more prevalent in affluent schools than it is in low-income schools.
Parents of rich students tend to wield more influence over schools and use it to pressure schools to inflate grades. Wealthier students can take AP or IB courses in order to boost their GPAs, while those same courses are usually not offered at low-income schools.
Grades are subject to more manipulation, which skews the playing field in favor of those who have the means and connections to game the system. Wasn’t eliminating the SAT/ACT supposed to level the playing field?
Eliminating the SAT/ACT will additionally give more importance to extracurricular activities in college admissions, to the benefit of the affluent. Rich schools tend to offer an array of academic clubs such as Science Olympiad and speech and debate, often with coaching services and sound organization.
Students from households earning less than $100,000 have twice the level of nonparticipation in extracurricular activities as their peers from wealthier households do. Most low-income students don’t have access to academic clubs. And when they do, they are usually underfunded, understaffed and lacking in support services. Low-income schools need the most funding yet receive the lowest amount. These cash-strapped schools often put extracurricular activities first on the chopping block in order to slash budgets, leaving many low-income students without access to extracurriculars.
This leaves the students to compete against affluent students whose parents and schools spend thousands on coaching and organizing academic clubs. The highest-income families spend almost seven times more on extracurricular activities for their children than low-income families do.
A low-income student cannot afford to attend a $3,000 debate camp and pay thousands per year to attend the competitions worth putting on a college application. In addition, wealthy students tend to be more well-connected. So their parents can land them internships with relative ease, while low-income students are left in the dirt.
The UC admissions process already serves underprivileged students far more than other elite schools do. Of all UC undergraduates, 42% are first-generation college students. The UC system enrolls a higher proportion of first-generation undergraduate students than other selective public institutions (27%) and selective private institutions (18%) do, and more than the national average for all four-year institutions (36%). So when it comes to the UC admissions system, if it ain’t broken, don’t fix it.
For a country founded on the principle that all men are created equal, doing away with the great testing equalizer is a step in the wrong direction. The most prestigious public university system in the world should shine the light on the right path to standardized testing in college admissions by living up to its creed: “Let there be light.”
Maria Richards is a rising sophomore at UC Berkeley and a nationally accomplished debater.