Tag Archives: Discovery Program

The University of California System Abandons the SAT/ACT: Will SUNY Follow? How Will Prospective Students Be Selected?

In a historic move likely to have national repercussions, the University of California Board of Regents voted … to stop requiring students to submit college-entrance tests the SAT or ACT for admissions purposes. The vote was a unanimous 23-0.

The system has given itself until the fall of 2025 to develop a bespoke standardized test for California residents. If the UC cannot create a new test that better aligns with what students learned in school, it’ll drop the testing requirement completely for Californians. 

The debate over college admissions has been ongoing for years, many years: Are the current tests discriminatory? Can you create a non-discriminatory test? Are other methods, for example, class standing discriminatory to another class of students?

The Scholastic Aptitude Test, the SAT, has been around, in many forms, since the 1920s.  The SAT (and the more recent ACT) have been the gatekeepers determining admission to colleges. Elite colleges have required higher scores and have made allowances for legacy students, students of alumni, commonly contributors to the school.

The research is overwhelming re the discriminatory impact of current “standardized” tests.

The evidence for a stubborn race gap on this test does… provide a snapshot into the extraordinary magnitude of racial inequality in contemporary American society.

 Standardized tests are often seen as mechanisms for meritocracy, ensuring fairness in terms of access. But test scores reflect accumulated advantages and disadvantages in each day of life up the one on which the test is taken. Race gaps on the SAT hold up a mirror to racial inequities in society as a whole.

 Equalizing educational opportunities and human capital acquisition earlier is the only way to ensure fairer outcomes.

The evidence that the SAT has a “disparate impact” is clear.

A 2015 analysis from Inside Higher Ed found that in each of the three parts of the SAT (reading, writing and language and math), the lowest average scores were among students from families who make less than $20,000 in family income, while the highest averages were among students from families who make more than $200,000.

  SAT scores showed continued patterns in which white and Asian students, on average, receive higher scores than do black and Latino students. And, as has been the case for years, students from wealthier families score better than do those from disadvantaged families.

 In December, 2019, a long awaited law suit was filed challenging the use of the SAT and the ACT in California,

“Rather than fulfilling its vision as ‘[a]n engine of opportunity for all Californians’ and creating a level playing field in which all students are evaluated based on individual merit, the [University of California] requires all applicants to subject themselves to SAT and ACT tests that are demonstrably discriminatory against the State’s least privileged students, the very students who would most benefit from higher education,” the lawsuit states.

“These discriminatory tests irreparably taint UC’s ostensibly ‘holistic’ admissions process, …The mere presence of the discriminatory metric of SAT and ACT scores in the UC admissions process precludes admissions officers from according proper weight to meaningful criteria, such as academic achievement and personal qualities, and requires them instead to consider criteria that act as a proxy for wealth and race and thus concentrate privilege on UC campuses.”

Rather than defending the lawsuit, the California Board of Regents is planning to abandon the tests.

A growing list of colleges has made their application process “test optional,” see list of colleges here.

If you abandon the use of the SAT and the ACT, how do you select students?

The California Board of Regents laid out a plan, that includes attempting to create non-discriminatory tests.

In the meantime the system will become “test optional,” although prospective students can seek admission under current rules,

California [residents] can still submit test scores to become eligible through the “statewide guarantee admissions,” which combines high school grades and test scores to give students a spot in any campus that has space if the student is in the top nine percent of applicants.

 If the new process results in fewer Asian and White students and more Afro-American and Latinx students will the plan be challenged in the courts? 

 The Supreme Court, in a 4-3 vote supported the University of Texas “Top Ten Percent Plan,” the Court wrote,

 Top Ten Percent Plan was narrowly tailored to serve a compelling state interest. … Previous precedent had established that educational diversity is a compelling interest as long as it is expressed as a concrete and precise goal that is neither a quota of minority students nor an amorphous idea of diversity. In this case, the Court determined that the University of Texas sufficiently expressed a series of concrete goals along with a reasoned explanation for its decision to pursue these goals along with a thoughtful consideration of why previous attempts to achieve the goals had not been successful. The University of Texas’ plan is also narrowly tailored to serve this compelling interest because there are no other available and workable alternatives for doing so.

With the retirement of Justice Kennedy (a “yes” vote) and the addition of Justices Gorsuch and Gallagher (probable “no” votes) the California plan will have to be carefully crafted.

The federal court challenge to the New York City; the use of the Discovery Program to admit greater numbers of Afro-American and Latinx students to the Specialized High Schools is still alive in the courts, although stumbling,

Plaintiffs argue that the Discovery program changes, though facially neutral, discriminate against Asian-Americans because the changes disproportionately hurt Asian-Americans and, critical here, Defendants intended the changes to do so. The Court finds that Plaintiffs are not likely to succeed in showing discriminatory intent and the program changes are thus likely subject to rational basis review. As a consequence, Plaintiffs are not likely to succeed on their equal protection claim.

I anticipate a long and winding road.

Will the New York State SUNY Board consider following the same pathway?

To the best of my knowledge the SUNY board has shown no interest in the issue; although as the COVID catastrophe begins to wind down and we begin to return to the “new normal” the issue may begin to surface.

For every applicant admitted another applicant is rejected, the number of seats is a constant: Can you devise a plan that is acceptable to all applicants and the courts?

In New York City the answer is “no” for the Specialized High Schools: a complicated and contentious issue involving race, class and ethnicity; will it be different in California? Or SUNY?

The Mayor Releases the School Diversity Advisory Group Interim Report: a Tepid Report with No Time Frame for Implementation

The long delayed Report was released on Tuesday, no roll of drums, a “soft” release with tepid, or shall I say a “toe-in-the-water” set of recommendations.

The NY Times headlines, “New York Public Schools Should Be Evaluated on Diversity, Not Just Tests, Panel Says,”

Over the next five years, the panel recommended, elementary and middle schools should reflect the racial makeup of their local school district, and high schools should look as much like their local borough as possible, in terms of race, income level, disability and proficiency in English.

 The education website Chalkbeat emphasizes what is not in the Report, “De Blasio’s School DiversityAdvisory Group issues its first Report — but it doesn’t touch the SHSAT or Gifted and Talented ”

… the group calls for more schools to represent the demographics of their immediate districts rather than the city as a whole. And it calls out nine specific districts that should be required to come up with integration plan.

 … the report is also notable for what it doesn’t include: It does not address the mayor’s controversial proposal to integrate the city’s elite specialized high schools. Nor does it say what to do about segregated gifted and talented programs or selective admissions policies more broadly (those issues are expected to be addressed later).

 The 118-page Report,  is rich in data with many charts and graphs, student demographics by race by district as well as teachers, principals and suspensions.

The Report is carefully written, dozens of recommendations and proposed strategies with a 3-5 year time frame.

Screened middle schools are commonplace across the city, schools that select students by grades on standards tests and other surrogates for race and class. The Report has “serious concerns,”

As an Advisory Group, we have serious concerns about the practice of screening students for middle school admissions – both because of the experience it creates for students and because of the impact it seemingly has on segregation in middle school. The Advisory Group will continue to consider the impact of middle school screens for its final report. However, it is important to this group that we consider the unintended consequences and the potential replacement policies before we move forward on any recommendations on this topic

 The Report has a major caveat, “unintended consequences,” meaning the fear of white/middle class flight.  Aggressive school integration initiatives not only did not achieve their goals in some instances the result exacerbated school segregation.

Admittance screening barriers in high schools are widespread, the Report, again, acknowledges the problem and tip-toes, avoiding any specific policies,

While we as an Advisory Group acknowledge the demographic imbalance in the City’s screened programs, we also recognize the advantage for all students to have access to academically advanced courses as well as the advantages that come from an academic experience fostered by a diverse environment, particularly in high school. The Advisory Group plans to continue examining the admissions practices of NYC high schools, and plans to look at admissions practices that have successfully led to high-performing, integrated school communities elsewhere, before making final recommendations.

New York City has a long history of gifted programs, Intellectually Gifted Programs (IGC) in grades 4, 5 and 6 determined by test scores, Special Progress (SP) classes in Junior High School, a few school districts collected all high achieving kids and placed them in gifted a school, under decentralization school districts had wide latitude, some districts tested kids and placed kids in classes with glitzy names (“Eagle”).

The Bloomberg/Klein administration was more cynical, screened programs were authorized across the city with test scores, interviews, portfolios  etc., required for admission, and , yes, in too many instances the programs/schools were segregated by race.  Most of the screened programs are in Manhattan, a lot less expensive than $40,000 for private school tuition.

The Specialized High Schools admission standards are not addressed in the Report, although, the resuscitated Discovery Program could increase students of color, we won’t know until the end of summer.  The nine districts listed in the Report will be encouraged to create their own plans, there may not be as much enthusiasm as there was in District 1 (Lower East Side) 3 (Upper West Side) and 15.Brownstone Brooklyn).

Under decentralization District 22 created one of the largest integration programs in the nation – over 1,000 Afro-American kids were bused from overcrowded all minority schools to underutilized white schools. The program was created by an elected school board was support from the electeds. It faded away under mayoral control. The current local boards, CECs, are ‘elected” by the local officers of parent associations. The CECs do have zoning authority within their district, albeit, with the approval of the Chancellor.

A mayor with “aspirations,” who defines himself as the most progressive mayor in the nation, who wants to build his progressive resume without alienating middle class white families, aka, “unintended consequences.”

Reminds me of the 19th century term, “mugwump .”

The Report has dozens of recommendations, a section rolling culturally relevant pedagogy into schools across the city, as well as training staff and prospective staff; recommendations to increase the role of parents and on and on.

The many datasets are interesting, and, raise questions. Why the sharp disparity in suspensions from district to district?  More effective restorative justice programs or superintendents tightening the faucet?  District 23, Brownsville, with among the highest crime rates in the city has among the lowest suspension rates, District 19, East New York, along side Brownsville, many more suspensions. District 23 also has (not in the Report) many instances of kids not receiving mandated Special Education services: a coincidence or district leadership that simply prohibits suspensions and ignores Special Education service mandates?

There are lots of doubts whether the administration or the chancellor intends to act aggressively. Tweets from NY Times reporter,

Eliza Shapiro‏ @elizashapiro

I heard a sense of resignation today on de Blasio’s willingness to integrate schools among some members of the working group today. When I asked about whether City Hall is going to make integration a priority, Maya Wiley [committee co-chair] noted that the mayor is only in office for 3 more yrs.

What if a good school in NYC meant a racially integrated school, not just a school with high test scores? It’s up to de Blasio, who has spent the last 5 years avoiding use of the word “segregation,” to decide whether that proposal will become city policy:

The Report is an interim report, I fear the final report will be up to the next mayor.