A coalition of students, civil rights and community groups sent a letter last week to the University of California calling for the removal of SAT and ACT scores as an admission requirement, threatening legal action unless it does so. The letter argues the tests are biased against low-income and disabled students, as well as students of color. Because of this, the letter alleges, they violate state laws against discrimination.
“[University of California’s] continued use of the SAT and ACT — descendants of discriminatory IQ tests that pose unlawful barriers to underrepresented students — is fundamentally at odds with its obligation to provide access to all qualified students,” the letter said.
Growing Suspicion of Standardized Tests
The letter was sent on behalf of three students, Compton Unified School District, Community Coalition and several other organizations. It cites research indicating an inherent cultural bias in SAT and ACT questions. According to one study, conducted by UC Berkeley in 2017, “Underrepresented minorities are less than half as likely to rise to the top of the [UC applicant] pool when ranked by test scores in place of high-school grades.”
The letter also cites a statement made by California Governor Gavin Newsom in October. He said the use of SAT and ACT scores “exacerbates the inequities for underrepresented students, given that performance on these tests is highly correlated with race and parental income, and is not the best predictor for college success.” The governor had recently vetoed a bill that “would have allowed districts to use the exams in place of certain state tests,” according to the Associated Press.
A Defensive Response
The College Board — who administers the SAT — and the ACT organization have both responded critically to the letter. “The notion that the SAT is discriminatory is false,” read the College Board’s statement. “Any objective measure of student achievement will shine a light on inequalities in our education system. Our focus, with our members and partners, is combating these longstanding inequalities.”
The ACT organization issued a similar statement. “The ACT test is not discriminatory nor biased,” it said before asserting the organization’s efforts to avoid biases. “We work diligently to make sure the test scores are not biased against any group of students,” it read. “Group differences in test scores mirror differences found in most other measures of educational attainment and success (e.g., college grades, graduation).”
The letter ends by asking for a timely response from the University of California. “We demand that the Regents place consideration of and response to this demand letter on the agenda of the November 13-14, 2019 Regents Meeting,” the letter reads. “Please respond within ten working days to schedule a meeting. We sincerely hope that litigation is unnecessary and look forward to your response.”