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Scrapping SAT May Not Be Answer to Diversity at UC

Analysis finds that dropping the standardized tests as admissions criteria would boost Latino and white eligibility but reduce it for blacks and Asians.

January 07, 1998|KENNETH R. WEISS | TIMES EDUCATION WRITER

Black and Latino students do not score as well as their white counterparts on the SAT, so eliminating the exams from admissions decisions should help more minority students get into the University of California.

Right?

Not necessarily.

A UC analysis of the proposal to drop the standardized tests has concluded that such a move actually would have mixed results:

About 5% more Latino students would be eligible to attend a UC campus, but there would be fewer blacks eligible than now, a drop of about 18%.

Asian Americans would also lose potential seats at UC campuses if SAT scores were eliminated, while about 14% more white students would qualify for the university system.

UC's Latino Eligibility Task Force proposed disregarding SAT scores in October in the wake of actions by the UC Board of Regents--and California voters--banning affirmative action in admissions decisions. The task force saw the move as a possible means of counteracting the impact of dropping race, ethnicity and gender considerations in admissions--which members said might mean a 70% decline in Latino students accepted to Berkeley, UCLA and other highly selective schools in the nine-campus system.

But then the Board of Admissions, a faculty committee assembled to set eligibility requirements, requested the study of the probable impact of scrapping SAT scores.

"It's enlightened many who previously thought that eliminating the test score requirement would achieve the right population mix," said Judy A. Kowarsky, UC's assistant director of undergraduate admissions.

The catch was in how the University of California was set up to skim the cream of the state's high school graduates, the top 12.5%. The remaining graduates can qualify for any of the 22 California State University campuses or go to community colleges.

Without using SAT scores in the competition, UC officials would be forced to rely primarily on grades. The problem? Under the current UC cutoff of a 3.3 grade-point average, far too many California high school graduates--19%--would qualify for admission.

"If you eliminate standardized tests, many more minority students are eligible for the university, but so are many other students," Kowarsky said.

The study thus concluded that the grade-point cutoff would have to be raised to 3.65. That change, in turn, had the projected impact of increasing the number of whites admitted and decreasing the number of blacks.

But Eugene E. Garcia, the dean of UC Berkeley's school of education and leader of the Latino Eligibility Task Force, said Tuesday that he still believes the university might not need to raise the minimum grade-point average--thus allowing more minority students to become eligible for UC admission.

Garcia noted that "eligibility" is not the same as actual enrollment--and that there are no rules that the university has to restrict eligibility to the top 12.5% of high school graduates.

"We have a lot of kids who are eligible who don't come. They go to Harvard or Stanford or wherever," he said. "I don't have a problem with opening up eligibility and then doing a quasi-centralized process for deciding who gets admitted."

Garcia said the Board of Admissions is considering an independent review of his proposal to drop SAT scores. And with the board scheduled to meet Thursday to discuss the standardized college admissions exams, among other issues, university officials say they are continuing to search for ways to change the eligibility criteria to increase racial and ethnic diversity.

"To date, we have not identified a set of factors that would do it," Kowarsky said.

One high-profile UC figure, however, is troubled with the drift of the discussions. Ward Connerly, the regent who orchestrated the ban on affirmative action, questioned the motivation of university officials who want to tinker with admissions criteria "to spur the enrollment of a certain group."

"I cannot seem to beat it through their pointy little heads that they shouldn't be in that mind-set," Connerly said. "We want to make sure everybody has an opportunity to compete. We should not be concerning ourselves with the outcome of an academic competition."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

UC Eligibility

The University of California now accepts the top eighth of the state's high school graduates, using a complex formula of SAT scores, grade point averages and other criteria. One task force has proposed that UC officials disregard SAT scores as a way to boost minority student enrollment. But a new study indicates that would have a mixed impact--actually lowering the number of black students admitted:

*--*

Current Rate Projected Rate of Admission of Admission (with SATs) (without SATs) Total 11.8 12.78 African American 2.8 2.34 Latino 3.8 3.99 Asian American 30.0 28.98 White 12.7 14.83 Female 12.6 14.09 Male 9.7 10.2 Rural 7.1 10.67 Suburban 13.0 13.78 Urban 10.3 10.66

*--*

****

Notes:

* 1996 Eligibility rates. These rates actually fell short of UC's targeted 12.5% of graduating high school seniors.

* Simulated eligibility rates based if UC dropped SATs scores. These figures are based on a projection that UC would have to raise the minimum GPA needed for admission to 3.65 in order to keep its eligibility pool from increasing too much.

Source: University of California

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