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Faculty, Rights Advocates Defend UC Berkeley Admissions Policies

In response to criticism from the Board of Regents chair, they issue a report saying SAT scores do not predict academic success.

October 25, 2003|Peter Y. Hong | Times Staff Writer

A dozen UC Berkeley professors struck back at UC Board of Regents Chairman John J. Moores on Friday, saying his recent attack on the school's admission of several hundred students with relatively low SAT scores ignores flaws in the entrance exam.

The professors, joined by representatives of a dozen education and civil rights advocacy groups, issued a 30-page defense of the university admission policy known as "comprehensive review." The policy allows consideration of academic qualifications such as SAT performance along with other factors, such as leadership and perseverance in the face of challenges.

The report asserts that SAT scores do not predict success at Berkeley. William Kidder, the report's chief author, said Moores' criticism of Berkeley's admissions policy lacked "a shred of evidence."

Moores said students "did not belong at the university -- without [citing] evidence they were unsuccessful," Kidder said.

Kidder, who is not on the Berkeley faculty, is affiliated with the Equal Justice Society, a civil rights advocacy group. The Berkeley faculty authors are primarily sociologists and ethnic studies professors.

Moores said he could not directly respond to the report, which he had not seen, but stood by his use of SAT data. "It's curious that there would be any concern about the SAT because it's required by the University of California," he said.

Moores also contended that the most competitive majors at the university assess applicants based on test scores and grade point averages. "A number of highly impacted majors almost exclusively admit students with high GPAs and high SAT scores. Those are their requirements, not mine," he said.

UC Berkeley officials say that in general, the top priority in evaluating applications for admission is academics, but students' various achievements are considered in the context of their opportunities and challenges.

The critique of Moores' report cites graduation rates at Berkeley as proof of the limited value of the SAT. The authors, citing UC Berkeley data, say the graduation rate for students who entered in 1988 with SAT scores between 1000 and 1099 was identical to that of those with scores above 1500 -- 82%. Those with scores between 900 and 999 graduated at a 79% rate, and the lowest-scoring group, with scores between 700 and 799, graduated at a 73% rate, the report states.

Kidder said Moores "focused entirely on one statistic as a measure of merit -- the SAT."

Doing so, Kidder said, is like using only home runs to judge a baseball player.

"If you only focused on home runs, you wouldn't select Tony Gwynn for your baseball team," Kidder said, referring to the former San Diego Padres all-star who won numerous batting titles despite hitting few home runs. Moores owns the Padres.

Moores replied: "In academia, I thought we were interested in academic excellence. I don't understand how admitting students with low GPAs and low college entrance-exam scores contributes to academic excellence."

The current controversy over admissions at Berkeley surfaced two weeks ago when The Times published results of a confidential report to the Board of Regents written primarily by Moores.

The report showed that nearly 400 students had been admitted with SAT scores below 1000, while more than 3,000 students with scores of 1400 or above were rejected. The maximum SAT score is 1600.

UC Regent Ward Connerly has charged that the admissions practices are essentially an end run around the state's 1996 ban on affirmative action in public institutions. Connerly was a key proponent of the ban.

The university has responded that many of the high-scoring students who were not admitted withdrew their applications, while others applied to very competitive majors, had below-average grades or were from out of state.

The report by the professors and civil rights groups upheld Berkeley's comprehensive review method. Such systems have long been used in some form by elite private colleges. The report cited data from a study by the former presidents of Princeton and Harvard universities, which showed nearly identical graduation rates among students with SATs below 1000 and those with scores above 1300 at 28 selective colleges.

The faculty members and civil rights advocates also contended that overemphasis on the SAT harms low-income and minority applicants. California students with family incomes above $100,000 average 1122 on the SAT, while those from families with below $10,000 in income average 835, the report said.

Moores replied that "admission to the University of California is not a civil rights issue, it's all about academic quality."

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Times staff writer Rebecca Trounson contributed to this report.

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