May 31, 2020 - 9:00 pm
Updated May 31, 2020 - 9:15 pm
The University of California might as well award every newborn in the state a diploma. That’s the logical endgame of its new college admissions policy.
In mid-May, the University of California board voted unanimously to phase out the use of SAT and ACT scores in its admissions process. Through 2022, it’s optional for applicants to submit SAT and ACT results. Starting in 2023, SAT and ACT scores will not influence a student’s chances of being admitted but may still be used for scholarships and class placement. By 2025, UC won’t use either test for any purpose. The proposal does leave open the possibility that UC will create an alternative standardized test, but that seems unlikely.
Progressive critics have long attacked standardized tests for all sorts of various shortcomings. The root of their complaints is that African American and Hispanic students don’t score well enough, ergo the exams must be racist. In 2017, the Brookings Institute found that the average SAT math “scores for blacks (428) and Latinos (457) are significantly below those of whites (534) and Asians (598).” In this context, liberals don’t consider Asians to be a minority, even though they’re a smaller ethnic group than blacks or Hispanics.
Lower SAT and ACT scores mean fewer African American and Hispanic applicants gain admittance to elite universities.
But the problem here isn’t the standardized tests. It’s the decadeslong failure of the public education system, which has disproportionately harmed African American and Hispanic students. Teacher unions and their allies in the Democratic Party have consistently fought reforms that might provide a path out of failing schools. Poverty and family structure play a role, too.
Standardized tests are useful because they are objective, unlike many classroom grading systems. In a February report, the UC Academic Senate’s Standardized Testing Task Force found that “California high schools vary greatly in grading standards.” It also found that grade inflation has reduced how predictive high school GPAs are in projecting college success.
The Nevada System of Higher Education knows firsthand the problems that come with admitting high school graduates who aren’t prepared. In 2016, 45 percent of its students had to take remedial classes. At UNLV, students who didn’t take a remedial class are more than 50 percent more likely to graduate. The new California policy on standardized college admissions tests risks setting up thousands of students for failure each year.
Standardized tests aren’t the be-all and end-all, but there should be a place for them when it comes to measuring academic achievement and potential. If the UC system seeks to eliminate all objective standards for admission, it will eventually be handing out degrees that have as much meaning as participation trophies.