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Asian American Lawmakers in California Charge UC Admission Change Harmful to Asians

As it prepares to turn answer to a California legislative panel, the University of California is defending changes in its new admissions policy that the school says will broaden the eligibility pool for applicants. Critics say it will increase the number of White students at the expense of Asian Pacific Islander students.


Fall 2008 admissions data show Asian Americans make up an average 40 percent of the UC student body across its five campuses


“I support diversity. Many of us do. There are smart ways to do it and there are stupid and counterproductive ways to do it. Based on the projections we saw, this is not the right way to do it,” says California Assemblyman Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, who chairs the Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus.


The Caucus held a hearing late last month on the new guidelines, which was approved by UC’s Board of Regents on Feb. 5, 2009, and has requested UC turn over documents, studies, analysis and other materials that were used to create the new policy, which goes into effect for the Fall 2012 class.


At the center of the controversy is the UC’s decision to drop the requirement that applicants take two SAT subject tests, also known as the SAT II’s. As its name suggests, these standardized exams test student’s knowledge in specific content areas including various sciences, foreign languages, math and history.


“Turns out those test scores tell us virtually nothing useful about who will do well when they arrive at UC as a freshman,” says Mark Rashid, who chaired a UC system-wide faculty committee that is responsible for the school’s admission policy.


Using 2007-2008 admission numbers, estimates from the University of California Office of the President, show the percentage of African-Americans will remain steady, moving slightly from 4 percent to 4 to 5 percent. The expected growth among Hispanic admits is also minimal, ranging from 19 to 22 percent, up from 19 percent. Asians, however, will dip from 36 percent to 29 to 32 percent, while Whites will post admissions gains, from 34 percent to 41 to 44 percent.


Outside of a few elite private schools including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University, UC is the only public institution that has required applicants to take SAT subject tests and the SAT reasoning test. Because the extra requirement was unique, and perhaps “extensive and burdensome,” Rashid says it excluded thousands of students in the state who might otherwise be competitive for admission into UC.


“We know there are many thousands of high school graduates in California who are good students — high GPA, good SAT reasoning scores, but, for whatever reason, fail to take the subject tests. That just basically antes them right out of the game,” Rashid says.


By eliminating the subject test and relying solely on the reasoning test, critics like Vincent Pan, executive director of Chinese for Affirmative Action, say it puts low-income and recently immigrated Southeast Asian and Asian Pacific Islander students at a disadvantage.


“The reasoning tests are analogies … you’re not supposed to be able to study for the SAT (reasoning),” Pan says. “That’s always been disadvantageous to lower income students, minority students, who haven’t had the resources to take Kaplan, or Princeton Review, or various expensive test preparation services, which is the only way they can boost their scores.”


Acknowledging the long-debated bias of standardized testing in correlation to race, socio-economic status and other factors, Rashid says UC’s intention is not to put minority students at a disadvantage. However, he says, the SAT reasoning test is “more predictive” of freshman performance than the SAT subject tests.


Rashid says the school will also continue to consider other credentials in a student’s application such as their GPA, and they can submit SAT subject test scores along with the SAT reasoning scores for consideration.


The Asian-American community also accuses UC of not seeking the appropriate amount of public feedback before making the decision. Rashid says anyone had the opportunity to weigh in on publicly noted Regents’ meetings when the topic was on the agenda starting in the Fall of 2008, and during six reform proposal briefings with legislators that began in June 2007.


“The characterization that this was sneaky or done hastily or tried to sneak it through — I have a hard time squaring that characterization when it’s not a factual record,” Rashid says.


The Caucus expects to hold more hearings on the policy, and urges UC to postpone or rescind the changes.


“I’ll keep fighting it,” Lieu says. “Obviously, I get a vote on their budget request.”

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