On October 29, lawyers representing groups including the Community Coalition, the Dolores Huerta Foundation, and the Equal Justice Society threatened a discrimination lawsuit against the University of California (UC) system. In a letter, the groups explained why the SAT and ACT — standardized tests that are usually a requirement for college applications — are discriminatory and should be removed from UC application requirements. The group stated that the test creation process has continually included items that put non-minority students at an advantage, and excluded items that would benefit minority students. The UC system has yet to comment on the lawsuit, but a UC faculty committee has been studying the issue since 2018. Results of the study are expected to be released in the spring of 2020.
The letter presented evidence such as score disparities between white students and students of color, inadequate test preparation opportunities, bias in exam conditions, results that are not accurate predictors of a student’s success, and multiple violations of the California Constitution.
It included a variety of statistics, including one that found 44 percent of white students scored 1200 or above on the 2018 SAT in California, while only 10 percent of Black students and 12 percent Latinx students had scores in that range.
The College Board and the ACT have denied accusations of bias. A spokesperson for the ACT said in a statement that although the test does illuminate a lack of equal educational opportunities, blaming such tests for these issues is not going to solve any problems.
David An, a college and career counselor at Berkeley High School (BHS), has seen the discrimination firsthand. An said, “You can be a high-achieving student with great extracurriculars, but with weak test scores it’ll get tough to get into many of the UCs … Unfortunately, that tends to exclude our low-income students and/or applicants of color.” An thinks that the UCs rely on test scores very heavily due to the extremely high number of applications they receive. UC Berkeley alone received over 50,000 freshmen applications from California residents for the 2019-20 school year.
The UC system considered dropping the SAT 18 years ago, citing the lack of a writing examination and arguing that the test was simply not a valid measure of a student’s potential. Subsequently, the College Board made some changes to the test, such as the addition of a writing section.
One of the most substantial obstacles that low-income students face is a lack of adequate test preparation opportunities. Self-study websites like Khan Academy — which is free — or Magoosh are two of the only affordable options for students, but many argue that they do not provide the same support a private tutor does. Many believe these services are not as effective as traditional test prep — which is very expensive. BHS’s College and Career Center (CCC) offers free test prep books and some tutors. However, options like Kaplan or Princeton Review, or even local tutoring centers like Classroom Matters, can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars.
Earlier this year, federal prosecutors uncovered a massive college admissions scandal in which wealthy parents paid thousands of dollars to falsify their children’s test scores and bribe examiners, among other things. Not only can test prep options cost thousands of dollars, but exceedingly wealthy families have been able to disregard the rules completely by paying for the scores they want. With all these loopholes, the integrity and value of college entrance exams have been questioned.
Ella Du, a senior at BHS, said that she thinks standardized tests are needed but feels they should not be weighed as heavily as they currently are. “If UCs were to change their testing policy to test-optional, I would definitely be less anxious about college applications,” she said. “As a student with relatively good grades and extracurriculars, I see my test score as one of the weaker parts of my application,” continued Du, who thinks a test-optional policy would be best due to the fact that some students have stronger SAT or ACT scores compared to their performance in school and extracurricular activities.
“I understand the need for a measure or a number because of the sheer number of applications,” said An. “However, I think the SAT/ACT either needs tweaking or a better test needs to be developed, one that truly tests [and] predicts college readiness,” he concluded.