SAN FRANCISCO - A highly anticipated report from a University of California faculty task force recommended Monday that the prestigious 10-campus public university system keep the SAT and ACT tests as part of its admissions process, saying the standardized tests are important indicators of student success and might benefit disadvantaged students.
The report dealt a blow to activist groups that have long argued standardized tests put minority and low-income students at a disadvantage. Critics say test questions often contain inherent bias that more privileged children are better equipped to answer and that wealthier students typically take expensive prep courses that help boost their scores, which disadvantaged students can’t afford.
With more than 280,000 students statewide, a decision by the University of California would be seen as influential as other colleges nationwide eye similar choices.
UC President Janet Napolitano said in a statement that the report was based on more than a year of research by the 18-member Standardized Testing Task Force but stressed that the findings were preliminary. The UC “aims to continue deliberating the role of standardized testing in our admissions process through a careful, fact-based approach so as to arrive at the most informed decision possible.”
She said a final decision was expected by the UC’s governing Board of Regents in May.
As part of the yearlong review, the task force set out to determine the pros and cons of standardized tests, how well they measure student success at UC schools, if they fairly promote diversity and whether standardized tests should be eliminated, made optional or replaced by other types of tests.
The task force found that UC’s admissions practices “do not fully make up for disparities that persist along lines of race and class” and recommended further study on how to increase diversity.
But the task force “did not find evidence that UC’s use of tests scores played a major role in worsening the effects of disparities” in the system.
It found that standardized tests are better predictors of a student’s success in their first year at UC schools than their high school grade point average The tests are also a more accurate measure of first-year retention and graduation rates than high school grades, the report said.
Many universities and colleges around the country have made standardized tests optional for admission, but the task force said it did not recommend that for the UC. It expressed concern that students with high scores would submit them and ultimately have an advantage over applicants who don’t. Ultimately, the task force did not feel that creating an optional test system would promote more diversity.
The report recommends that UC develop its own admission exam that could help UC admit students more representative of the state’s diversity, a process that would take several years.
The 192-page report will be reviewed by all members of the UC Academic Senate, which will compile faculty input from all UC campuses before giving its recommendations to Napolitano, who requested the review in 2018. Napolitano will then make her recomendation to the Board of Regents, which is expected to vote on the issue at its May meeting.
As part of its research the task force said it consulted dozens of studies on standardized tests and met with the national testing agencies, critics of the tests, UC admissions officers and other experts.
In December, a coalition of students, advocacy groups and the Compton Unified School District, a largely minority district in Southern California, filed a lawsuit suit against the University of California system to stop it from using standardized test scores in its admissions.
The lawsuit argues that the tests were biased against poor and mainly black and Hispanic students and that by basing admissions decisions on those tests, they the system illegally discriminates against applicants and denies them equal protection under the California Constitution.