Tag Archives: SAT

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?

David Coleman, the Common Core, the “Redesigned” SAT and Growing Public Angst: Is the Testing Craze Ebbing?

Every teacher in American is engaged in the Common Core, how many have heard of the architect of the Common Core – David Coleman?

In a lengthy article in The Atlantic Dana Goldstein describes the architect,

David Coleman is an idealistic, poetry-loving, controversy-stoking Rhodes Scholar and a former McKinsey consultant who has determined, more than almost anyone else, what kids learn in American schools.

I first heard Coleman in April, 2011, I was sitting with a network, thirty or so principals and staff watching a telecast of what has become the iconic Coleman speech. (Read transcript of the Albany speech here).

Coleman strutted back and forth across a stage laying out in detail the elements of the Common Core, to be honest my attention was beginning to wane; there was a certain smugness about Coleman, and, maybe I knew too much about his past. He had created the “Grow Report,” one of the first data tools to assess student/school progress; it was widely adopted by school districts and Coleman sold the company for mega-bucks. After attending PS 41, IS70 and Stuyvesant High School he graduated to Yale, Oxford and Cambridge and according to his bio intended to become a high school teacher, instead, he became an entrepreneur.

As my mind was wandering I was jolted upright, Coleman told us,

“…the most popular form of writing in American high schools today …it is personal writing. It is either the exposition of a personal opinion, or, it is the presentation of a personal matter. The only problem, forgive me for saying this so bluntly, the only problem … as you grow up in this world you realize that people really don’t give a shit about what you feel or what you think.”

It was crass, intended to surprise, and wrong. Yes, employers seek employees with literacy and numeracy skills, they also tell us, as does Nobel Prize winner James Heckman, that it is the non-cognitive skills that employers find most important.

While forty-five states may have adopted the Common Core the debate continues and over the last week Marc Tucker, Anthony Cody, Diane Ravitch and Yong Zhao continued to debate over accountability and testing, debating the Common Core.

A few years ago Coleman moved from the Common Core to the College Board with the goal of redesigning both the SAT and the Advanced Placement exams – to make the exams congruent with the Common Core.

The SAT folks are on the road drumming up support for the new SAT – due out in 2015-2016. At the September 15th NYS Regents meeting a team from the SAT gave the Regents a preview of the new test. The “Redesigned SAT,” as it is called by the College Board is totally different from the current SAT, and, incredibly complex.

Try a few questions from the “Redesigned SAT:” http://www.regents.nysed.gov/meetings/2014/September2014/RedesignedSATCollegeBoardPresentation.pdf)

Goldstein tells us Coleman,

… hopes to effect change from the top down, by shifting what is expected of students applying to college and, he hopes, by increasing the number of students who apply in the first place. Coleman’s most radical idea is to redesign the SAT, transforming it from an aptitude test intended to control for varying levels of school quality, to a knowledge test aligned with the Common Core. He describes this change as a way to put applicants on an equal playing field, a message to “poor children and all children that their finest practice will be rewarded.”

To think that an extremely difficult test is going to change the face of American education is both foolish and arrogant.

… the SAT is unlikely to close the large test-score gap between affluent and poor students. “It’s hard to use the SAT as a driver of social justice, because tests tend to reproduce, not upend, social hierarchies,” says Nicholas Lemann, the author of The Big Test, a history of the SAT, … “Everybody is always looking for the test on which people from different races and classes do the same, but it doesn’t exist.”

If Coleman’s College Board really wants to prevent high-school students from dropping out—a focus of the organization’s latest advocacy campaign—it ought to develop an occupationally focused corollary to its Advanced Placement program, [Anthony] Carnevale suggests: not “Math for Harvard” but “Math for Heating, Ventilation, and Air-Conditioning.”

Coleman’s problems are not new, the SAT is no longer the college gatekeeper, with each year fewer and fewer students take the SAT, the reductions by state have been drastic. (Read state-by-state data here)

Coupled with fewer test takers is the “test optional” movement. More and more colleges are either giving applicants the option of not submitting SAT grades or have abandoned the SAT totally. A recent study compares students accepted through the SAT process (“submitters”) and students without the SAT (“nonsubmitters”).

… there was virtually no difference in grades and graduation rates between test “submitters” and “nonsubmitters.” Just 0.05 percent of a GPA point separated the students who submitted their scores to admissions offices and those who did not. And college graduation rates for “nonsubmitters” were just 0.6 percent lower than those students who submitted their test scores.

The revolution that rolled over New York State over the results of the Common Core state tests will be dwarfed by the tsunami of parent anger if hordes of students “fail” the redesigned SAT. As the SAT team projected “old” SAT questions and “new” SAT questions eyes rolled. The room was packed with principals and superintendents and scores of people with PhDs after their names. Had we all suddenly undergone a plague of “dumbness” or is it the new SAT?

How many thousands of dollars in tutoring fees will parents have to spend to prepare their urchins? And, how about the kids who can’t afford $100 an hour tutors? The current yawning achievement gap will become a chasm.

Regent Tallon is fond of referring to the “folks cross the street,” on the other side of Washington Avenue, where the legislative and the executive branches of state government are housed. As parents railed against the state tests legislators and the governor squirmed, the public’s angst was directed at government officials who have to stand for election every two years.

As College Board revenue shrinks and colleges and state governments retreat the overseers of the SAT will be looking at the bottom line.

One of the lessons of history is that reforms imposed from above without buy-in from below are doomed and ignoring history has dire consequences.

Perhaps David Coleman should consider his original career choice – a high school teacher.