The regents’ Committee on Educational Policy voted unanimously for a controversial change in freshman admission standards that would take effect for fall 2012. On Wednesday, Feb. 4, the University of California regents gave preliminary approval to drop the requirement for two SAT subject exams, which would allow more students to be eligible for a review of their applications. Students would still need to take the main SAT or ACT entrance tests. From this change, UC officials estimate that 21.4 percent of California high school graduates will be eligible for a “comprehensive review” of their applications, compared to 13.4 percent in 2007.
According to the College Board Web site, in 2002, the SAT II Subject Tests are “designed to measure knowledge, and the ability to apply that knowledge in specific subject areas.” The SAT II tests are no longer worth considering for UC admissions because they are not a strong indicator of someone’s readiness for college work. The tests are more of a hassle than anything, especially when many are similar to Advanced Place classes. High school grades, class rank and rigor of courses do a better job of predicting college performance than the SAT I, SAT II and ACT. Since students are tested under similar conditions and in a similar way, these exams tap a narrow range of skills and cater to one kind of learning and test-taking style. If a student does not do well at timed, multiple-choice exams, his or her true abilities may not be reflected in the final score. In recent years, a growing number of schools, mainly small liberal arts colleges, have decided to make the SAT optional. Many are concerned about the test’s validity, particularly about the apparent ethnic gaps that show up in its scores. The average scores of black and Latino students tend to lag behind those of whites and Asians.
A U.S. Department of Education-sponsored study found that high school curriculum offered a higher correlation with bachelor’s degree attainment than either SAT scores or class rank/grade point average. High school curriculum was even a stronger predictor for black and Latino students than for students overall, showing the value of employing broader admission criteria.
Many students from a lower socioeconomic status do not have easy access to testing sites for the SAT II’s, as well as expensive prep classes, providing an unfair disadvantage for those who do. Numerous studies have demonstrated that student scores on admission exams can be significantly raised through rigorous coaching. Score gains that come with test coaching exacerbate the inequities already present with college admission exams. These courses, which can cost $800 or more, skew scores in favor of higher-income test-takers, who already tend to do well on the exam.
The new admission policies are a matter of viewing more applications that would not have necessarily been considered in the past if they did not have SAT II results. Therefore, it is slightly fairer, but is in no way an indication, as critics contend, that the UC is lowering its standards. By excluding the SAT IIs, it will widen the applicant pool so that students from a wider array of backgrounds and circumstances will be considered, thereby making it more competitive to apply. The changes are expected to reduce the statewide guarantees by about 10,000 students a year to about 35,475, and boost the number eligible for review by about 30,000 to 76,141 a year, UC officials estimated.
Furthermore, instead of accepting the top 12.5 percent of statewide high school graduates, the UC will only guarantee admission for the top nine percent, clearly an indication that competition will, if anything, intensify. Eliminating the focus on numbers and standardized tests would force students to pursue a more well-rounded high school experience, resulting in stronger, well-versed students who are able to interact and participate in the community as confident young individuals. Students could then taste the phenomenon of real life, an equilibrium of books and experiences, and gain applicable skills rather than waste four years cowering in fear of engaging the world lest it hinder their efforts to achieve a perfect score.
While the subject tests are consistent requirements among top private institutions, such as Harvard, Yale and Princeton Universities, many top-tier public universities such as the University of Michigan and the University of Texas at Austin do not list the SAT II as a requirement. If the UC system dropped the subject test requirement, FairTest: National Center for Fair & Open Testing, a strong critic of the College Board and standardized testing, points out that only around six dozen campuses throughout the country would then require the tests; 36 percent of all subject tests are administered in California.
The hope is that these changes are the first of many steps to dethrone standardized testing and foster an admissions system that takes into consideration the aspects of a student’s life that actually contribute to their intellectual superiority. As a leading university system, the UC could trigger a potential domino effect and render standardized testing nothing more than an unnecessary waste of tens of millions of dollars upholding an elitist admissions system.
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