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LETTERS TO THE TIMES

Scores and UC Admissions

October 11, 2003

Re "UC Berkeley Admissions Scrutinized," Oct. 4: What is the surprise? That UC Berkeley recognizes that talent comes not only under the guise of high SAT scores? That Berkeley recognizes that most students would have high scores if they attended high-performing schools? That under-represented students tend to attend low-performing schools that fail them?

I teach at a low-performing school that in 1999 earned the distinction of being the lowest-performing middle school in the state. We are underserved in all areas, and this unfortunately gets passed on to our students. We have had four different assistant principals in the position of programming students in the last four years. Two years ago we were down to one counselor for 2,700 students. Currently we have no permanent counselor on A track, which serves almost 1,000 students. We have 30 to 40 teachers with fewer than three years' teaching experience. We have unfilled positions in English and English as a second language, the most important subject for our students. Our local district is constantly in flux and has few permanent employees who can assist us in processing budgets and with conferences for teachers.

We teachers are breaking our backs trying to do the best we can to give students the best education possible. But we cannot make up for unfilled positions, the district's budget errors and a difficult teaching environment that makes teachers leave for a safer place to teach.

Who is surprised, and why, that students whose educational experiences are formed under these circumstances are not scoring as high as students in, say, La Canada High School, Marlborough School or Beverly Hills High? Thank God there are schools like Berkeley that do not penalize students for being the victims of their own neighborhood schools. These students are an untapped source of knowledge and bring with them skills that few other freshmen do; they have succeeded under the worst conditions possible. I do believe that is a quality that cannot be measured by a test.

L. Martha Infante

National Board Certified Teacher, Bethune Middle School, LAUSD

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Margaret Daugherty (letter, Oct. 7) doesn't mind the denial of rights her well-qualified daughter faced when she was turned down by UC Berkeley in favor of objectively less-qualified applicants. She claims that the number of admissions at question is "statistically insignificant." I beg to differ, because 381 qualified students were denied entry to a university owned by the state in order that room be made for less-qualified applicants. They were obviously denied admission on subjective criteria -- either diversity considerations or perhaps due to competing children of wealthy donors going to the head of the line.

I have a daughter about the same age as Daugherty's. She was turned down this year for admission to UCLA and UC San Diego on what appear to be grounds other than poor test scores or grades. Many of her friends were accepted to these two universities with both lower SAT and grade-point average numbers. What her friends who were accepted did not have was my daughter's race -- she chose to check the box on the UC application marked "Asian" and to emphasize her beloved Chinese heritage in the admissions essay.

Unfortunately, her decision put her into the vastly oversubscribed Asian Pacific American category. Two years ago, in the UCLA alumni newsletter, a discussion of scores-based admissions policies indicated that APAs had been accepted at a rate of 30% over their population statistic, whites near their population statistic and Hispanics, blacks and Native Americans at a rate 30% under. The newsletter implied that UCLA needed to correct this disparity in the name of encouraging diversity. I believe that it did so this year on the back of my daughter.

That is why I voted for the ill-fated Proposition 54. California is not collecting racial information to prevent discrimination; it is collecting it to allow its employees to discriminate.

Douglas Campbell

Culver City

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What is wrong with measuring an applicant based on community service, student body activism, work experience, athletic capabilities and access to AP or honors courses? Not all high school students can afford costly SAT preparatory courses. Should the fact that a student attended classes where fewer opportunities exist preclude him or her from attending one of our premier public universities? I say "job well done" to the admissions committee, which is wise enough to keep the learning experience open to all. I want my child to attend school with a diverse group of students who may bring something different to the table. Having 5% of the freshman class come from different backgrounds could add spice to what would otherwise be a boring dish.

Steve Underwood

Fountain Valley

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I do not understand why marginally qualified students cannot be admitted to Cal State universities or community colleges and, after proving their abilities, transfer to UC Berkeley if they so desire. The purpose of the top-notch universities is to educate the scholars and professionals who will be moving our society forward, not to serve as a remedy for inadequate secondary education. Berkeley is not a trade school for professional athletes who are admitted with low SAT scores. Yes, the hard-working students do need sports facilities for relaxation, but college athletes who provide entertainment for the university while promoting their future careers as pros are only discouraging average students from practicing sports.

Marcel Gawartin

Ladera Heights

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