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UC System Considers Dropping SAT Subject Test Requirement

Facing pressure from an influential faculty group, the University of California system is considering dropping subject tests of the Scholastic Aptitude Test as a requirement for admission into its nine universities. Currently, applicants are required to take two elective SAT subject tests in addition to the traditional SAT or its counterpart, the ACT.

The Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools, a governing body made up of UC faculty and administrators that oversee all matters relating to the admissions of undergraduate students, is calling for revocation of the exams.

BOARS, the committee charged with making recommendations to improve the admissions process, insists that SAT subject tests are discouraging students from diverse and low-income backgrounds from applying to UC schools.

An analysis of 2004 California Basic Educational Data Systems, an annual collection of basic student and staff data from the California Department of education and College Board data estimated that 54 percent of all students eligible for the UC System took the SAT subject test. However, among Black students only 35 percent of those completing every other requirement also took the required SAT subject exams. Among Chicano/Latino students the number was 38 percent.

“In quantitative studies BOARS has repeatedly found that while the predictive power of all standardized admissions tests is quite modest, scores on these elective subject test make a negligible contribution to predictions of initial academic performance in the university,” BOARS representatives said in a formal proposal to the board of regents to reform UC’s freshman eligibility requirements.

University of California institutions are among 71 elite colleges and universities that mandate SAT subject tests. The tests, intended to measure a student’s achievement in a particular subject, have been required by the UC System in some form since the 1970s.

For decades, critics of the SAT and the subject exams have argued that these tests are poor predictors of college performance. In the areas of math and reading, a national test score gap exists between Black and Hispanic students and their White counterparts on the traditional SAT. Researchers also have found that there is a direct correlation between SAT scores and family incomes.

Dr. Ana-Christina Ramon, research coordinator for the University of California, Los Angeles’ Ralph J. Bunche Center, hopes that one day the UC System will eliminate the SAT from its admissions process altogether, noting that the elimination of the subject test is a good first step.

“Research has found that minority students are less likely to take the SAT subject tests. It’s an additional test and many minority students don’t always have the opportunity to take the test or even recognize that it’s necessary,” Ramon says.

The College Board’s traditional SAT evaluates a student’s basic understanding of reading, writing and mathematical concepts. The three-hour long SAT includes both multiple choice and essay portions. The SAT subject tests assess students’ mastery of a particular subject — history, Spanish, calculus or literature, for instance. These tests are 60 minutes long and vary in price.

“SAT Subjects tests are achievement tests. If you take them away, you’re removing a merit-based, achievement-based way for these students to show what they’ve learned in high school classes,” says Laurence Bunin, senior vice president for operations and the SAT.

Indeed, fee waivers are available for low-income students and students are allowed to choose their own two subjects. Some even argue that bilingual students benefit from the language tests.

Having researched the tests over the last four years, BOARS representatives found that the subject tests offer little in terms of the assessment of a student’s performance.

“The requirement determines eligibility, and that shouldn’t be. It shouldn’t be a participation requirement that determines eligibility. It should be a performance requirement that determines eligibility. Given that the test has differential impact on our ability to bring in as excellent and as diverse of a class as possible, BOARS came up with this recommendation,” says Dr. Michael Brown, chairman of the UC systemwide Academic Senate.

Today admission rates for Blacks is the lowest ever at each UC campus, followed by Hispanics, according to “Gaming the System,” a recent UCLA report.

BOARS argues that eliminating the subject tests would cause the representation of these groups on UC campuses to increase. “Our simulation indicates in terms of the students who would now get a review, it would be a more diverse pool. With respect to African-Americans, numbers would increase; it’s unlikely that there would be a percentage increase. In the case of Chicano–Latinos, they should increase in both in number and percentage,” Brown says. 

No final decisions have been made by the UC Board of Regents. The proposal is still in the consideration stage.

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