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Inequality Persists with Potential UC Policy

Illustration by Kate Greenblatt

The University of California (UC), as in all of the universities included in the UC system, is considering making the SAT optional for admission and in turn requiring the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) instead. This change wouldn’t eliminate how systems of oppression affect admissions; in fact, it would exacerbate existing inequalities and introduce new problems.

If UC scraps the SAT as a requirement, it will have to raise the minimum grade point average (GPA) required for admission to 3.65, in order to keep the admission pool to the top 12.5 percent of California’s high schoolers, according to a new analysis of the policy change conducted by the  UC. While this would increase the Latino eligibility rate by five percent, this would lower the Asian American eligibility rate by one percent, lower the African American eligibility rate by 18 percent, and raise the white eligibility rate by 17 percent.

In response to a UC Regents resolution that eliminated the consideration of race and gender in UC admissions, this proposed policy change is supposed to increase the diversity of students in UC. However, this policy would backfire spectacularly if enacted.Only 17 states other than California are members of the SBAC, and a mere three others are affiliated with it. In other words, 29 American states are completely unaffiliated with SBAC, so many students from these states could be at a disadvantage for UC admission.

Furthermore, while the SAT’s prediction of college GPAs is certainly imperfect, the SBAC’s is even worse. Switching from one flawed system to a more complicated flawed system can hardly be called a change for the better. The SAT is still far from perfect. It’s part of the classism, racism, and sexism in the college process. Fees for taking the SAT multiple times, the SAT subject tests, and fees for sending tests to more than four colleges add up breathtakingly, especially for low income households. SAT fee waivers do help level the playing field between wealth classes, but they cover the cost of two SAT tests and no more. More affluent students can afford to take the tests many times. White students consistently outperform black and Latino students, and males perform better than females in some subjects. The emphasis that the UC and colleges across the country put on SAT scores fuel achievement gaps, but the answer to the problem isn’t eliminating the SAT and replacing it with a more inaccurate, albeit free, test. UC wants to write its own tests that assess students’ knowledge in the specific areas they want to study in the UC system, and that’s great — if the applicant already knows what they want to study.

Until the UC has these tests ready to go, it can’t responsibly wholly discount the SAT. In the meantime, UC should place less emphasis on the SAT, and even once the UC offers its own tests, it should keep its doors open to students who aren’t sure what subjects they want to study. UC faculty and education policy researchers  admit that testing does not and cannot measure all of the qualities UC looks for in a student, and UC admissions should reflect that. As to achievement gaps concerning race and sex, the SAT doesn’t create these gaps for the most part; it reflects them. Public schools must better serve students of color and female students so they have a fair chance of getting into college when competing with white male students, regardless of the criteria the UC uses for admission.