UCs should keep standardized tests a part of application process

February 8, 2020 — by Preston Fu

The University of California System (UC) was sued last December by the predominantly Hispanic and black Compton School District for requiring applicants to take the SAT or ACT. The lawsuit claimed that the UC standardized testing requirement measures race and family income over academic achievement despite UC’s legal obligation to provide equal access to all students.

College Board’s 2019 SAT Score Report stated that 55 percent of Asian students and 45 percent of white students scored at least a 1200, compared to just 9 percent of African American students and 12 percent of Hispanic students. The average score among students whose parents did not pursue a college degree was 983, compared to the average of 1171 among students who had at least one parent with a college degree.

It’s hardly a surprise that most teens in places like Saratoga and Los Gatos attend intensive SAT preparation classes and perform better on those tests partly as a result of this, better schools and the educational level of their parents. What the lawsuit fails to recognize is that standardized testing is still the most objective way of comparing two applicants and identifying one as better suited to a university than another. 

While privileged students will naturally have educational advantages in the form of test prep and additional tutoring, there remains a need for a metric by which universities can measure all students. Whether the schools compare students by performance in school and extracurriculars or by test scores, the wealth issue persists. Taking test scores out of the picture will not do anything to relieve the issue, because economic privilege permeates almost every aspect of a student’s educational performance.

Some critics claim that using grades would serve as a better measure. However, the existence of phenomena such as grade inflation and varying course difficulties and grading scales from school to school show that GPA is a number with no units. It means little without context. SAT and ACT scores are the single best way to judge applicants by a standardized grading scale. There is nothing at the moment that can take their place.

It’s easy to see why minority students who sued the UCs have an underlying goal of attending America’s best public universities. And they are at a huge disadvantage compared to wealthy students. 

Having said that, though, I would challenge the students in Compton to suggest a better solution than standardized tests.