A Threat Over Standardized Testing

Civil rights groups say they will sue University of California if it continues to use SAT and ACT.

November 4, 2019

A coalition of civil rights groups on Tuesday sent a letter to the University of California threatening to sue the university system if it continues to require either the SAT or the ACT for admissions. (The university uses both exams.)

"Research demonstrates that the SAT and ACT systematically prevent talented and qualified students with less accumulated advantage -- including students with less wealth, students with disabilities, and underrepresented minority students -- from accessing higher education at the University of California," the letter said. The letter goes on to says that the tests produce "meaningless results."

"The SAT and ACT fail to deliver on their chief purpose: the prediction of student performance in college," the letter says. "Put simply, the scores do not provide any meaningful information about a student’s likelihood of college success. The College Board, for instance, defends the use of the SAT primarily by asserting that SAT scores are a strong predictor of first-year grades. That is already a dubious metric: no person attends college in order to get first-year grades, and no university should seek to design its student body around that measure."

The letter continues, "The fact that SAT and ACT scores measure socioeconomic status and race -- rather than ability or mastery of curriculum -- results in part from biases built into the development of the exams themselves."

And it notes that test prep exacerbates inequalities in the system by favoring wealthy students.

“Today’s legal action finally changes the conversation from a policy one to a legal one,” said Mark Rosenbaum, directing attorney at Public Counsel, a nonprofit law firm. “Use of the SAT/ACT is not merely bad policy; it violates the California Constitution and antidiscrimination statutes, and is therefore legally and morally impermissible."

The letter notes that California law bars racial discrimination and says that will be the basis of a lawsuit if the Board of Regents doesn't stop requiring the SAT or ACT.

Most actions against the SAT or ACT to date have simply been to convince colleges to stop requiring them. Litigation, if successful, would raise the stakes.

The University of California Academic Senate is currently studying whether it should continue to require applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores.

A University of California spokeswoman noted that review in saying that there would be no comment on the letter.

"The Senate has since established a task force to determine whether SAT and ACT tests are useful measures of academic performance for the admissions process," said Claire Doan, executive director of strategic communications and media relations.

"The university is currently waiting for the assessment and recommendations from the Academic Senate’s Task Force before determining whether any steps should be taken on this important issue. We expect the task force to provide its recommendations to the Academic Senate in academic year 2019-20," she added.

ACT released a statement that said in part, "The ACT test is not discriminatory nor biased. We work diligently to make sure the test questions are not biased against any group of students … Group differences in test scores mirror differences found in most other measures of educational attainment and success (e.g., college grades, graduation). And research has repeatedly shown that ACT scores are predictive of and related to important educational outcomes including college grades, retention, and graduation. ACT test results reflect inequities in access and quality of education, shining a light on where they exist. Blaming standardized tests for differences in educational quality and opportunities that exist will not improve educational outcomes."

The College Board said, “The notion that the SAT is discriminatory is false. 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. More than 140 school districts and county offices of education across California, including some of the largest and most diverse districts in the state, support using the redesigned SAT as part of their efforts to improve college readiness and break down barriers to college -- connecting their students to the College Board’s free personalized practice tools and unlimited college application fee waivers. We will continue to work with the University of California as it addresses the challenging task of admitting students from among thousands of qualified applicants and supporting their success when they arrive on campus. Regrettably, this letter contains a number of false assertions and is counterproductive to the fact-based, data-driven discussion that students, parents and educators deserve.”


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