In May, the University of California announced an immediate end to the use of standardized testing in admissions and scholarship decisions at the nine schools in its system that accept undergraduates. It is a move so widely hailed by the administrators and faculty that you know someone’s getting hustled, and in this case the marks are the state’s low-income Black and Latino students––the very ones whom the new policy is supposed to help. The university has long claimed that it is “shaped and bounded by the central pervasive mission of discovering and advancing knowledge.” What’s one more lie?
The university has averred that standardized tests discriminate against low-income Black and Latino students; its evidence is that these students tend to perform worse on the SAT and ACT than students from other racial and ethnic groups. If we were to think about this assertion rationally instead of emotionally, we would have to face what California has done: consigned its most vulnerable students to some of the worst K–12 schools in America. There can be no more obvious example of state-sponsored discrimination than the condition of these schools, which, decade after decade, have robbed students of 13 years and given them little in return. All the standardized tests do is reveal the obvious outcome of our cruelty. Saying it’s the tests’ fault is like feeding children a poisoned sundae and then blaming the cherry on top for making them sick.
Do the tests prevent low-income Black and Latino students from getting college degrees? This is the charge of a lawsuit filed in 2019 and settled by the university in May that claimed that requiring test scores for admission “actively prevent Plaintiffs from accessing public higher education and its attendant opportunities.“
Only the counterrevolutionary impulse would lead anyone to want to douse the flames of social justice with the fire retardant of fact. But the truth is that no high-school graduate in California is denied higher education because of a test score. The UC schools are some of the most competitive in the state, but the Cal State system has more than twice as many campuses and costs about half as much to attend, and some locations have an admission rate of almost 90 percent. Students reluctant to earn a degree from the “lesser” system may avail themselves of the best deal in American higher education: Earn a 2.4 GPA in the requisite courses at a California Community College, and your ability to transfer to a UC campus is guaranteed. Not a single standardized test need ever be taken.
Here are some more of the fiercely held arguments for dumping the tests: Test scores don’t reflect the character-forging aspects of life as a poor teenager; the tests force students from underfunded schools to compete against “affluent whites” who can afford expensive test prep; high-school GPA is a much better predictor of students’ ability to succeed in a UC program anyway.
These are not facts. They are assumptions, all of them flawed or flat-out incorrect.
First, poor students were not pitted against rich students. One of the ways the UC system found to work around the state’s ban on affirmative action was to evaluate test scores “in local context.” You didn’t need to be a top test taker in California to be UC-eligible. You just needed to be a top test taker within your own school. Moreover, UC admissions adopted a system of “holistic review” to take into account the hardships that applicants faced, allowing students to express themselves in essays that are read by an army of readers.
Second, while high-school GPA has been found to be more predictive of success at college than standardized test scores at some schools, the exact opposite turns out to be true for students at UC schools. There, standardized test scores say more about which applicants are likely to earn a degree and to do it in less than eight years; they also correlate strongly with students’ GPA at the university.
The biggest barrier to getting into the University of California is not the SAT; it is, again, the GPA. Because students at underfunded schools have such limited access to college counseling, they often assume that if they want to go to the UC, they should keep an eagle eye on their GPA. What many don’t know is that, to be eligible, they must complete a series of 15 college prep classes called the A-G requirements. Good grades in other classes don’t count. (And—shockingly—some high schools don’t even offer all the A-G requirements.)
There was a loophole these students could use, and it involved test scores: The course-load requirement could be waived for those who did well enough on the SAT or the ACT. This was a Hail Mary pass for many smart kids who, for whatever reason, didn’t do well in high school or did well but not in the A-G classes. In 2018, about 22,000 students “tested in” to the UC. Almost half of those students were low-income, and more than a quarter were Black, Latino, or Native American. The UC has now taken this lifeline away.
How do I know all of this? Because unlike the regents, who enthusiastically voted to eliminate the tests for the first time in 2020, I did not ignore the findings of a 225-page report that was prepared for them at the request of the UC’s then-president, Janet Napolitano. This report, by the Academic Council’s Standardized Testing Task Force, was based on years of UC admissions data and was the product of a tremendous amount of work by a formidable team of experts in statistics, medicine, law, philosophy, neuroscience, education, anthropology, and admissions.
The scholars determined that the obvious challenges faced by low-income Black and Latino students were poverty and poor K–12 education. And they found that the UC’s use of standardized tests did not amplify racial disparities. They agreed that the university should continue using test scores in admissions, but recommended that the UC begin developing its own test, which would be designed to meet the needs of both students and the institution.
Why did the regents completely ignore this report? I have a guess. People in power today would much rather do something that seems to promote “equity” than make an evidence-based choice that could lead to accusations of racism. This is the kind of infuriating policy decision that looks like it is going to help poor, minority students but will actually harm them.
In short, this decision will probably hurt thousands of Asian American teenagers, backfire for Black, Latino, and low-income students, and make little difference for affluent whites. The futility of the mission is so staggering that you have to ask: What will dropping the tests really accomplish?
It will give cover to the many forces invested in not improving the state’s K–12 education, especially in the poorest districts. Those include: Republicans, who don’t like pouring money into public education; taxpayers, who don’t like their dollars being spent on other people’s children; Democrats, who serve the teachers’ unions; and the mighty unions themselves, which seem more interested in protecting failing teachers than in reforming a failing system.
“California is America, only sooner.” Californians are proud of that expression, and it still holds up. What’s happening out here—a homelessness crisis that turns deadly when the summer heat climbs; soaring crime in the cities; fires and coastal erosion spurred by climate change; strong students denied college admission because of the color of their skin and the “foreign” sound of their names; and a great research university obscuring, rather than revealing, the truth—all of that will happen where you live, too. We just got here first.
Post by Jalapeñomel on Jul 22, 2021 13:32:17 GMT -5
The system is broken from the bottom up. Until we decide to fund our poorest communities in a way that cuts class sizes in half, supports teachers (increases wages, fully supplies classrooms), and provides the appropriate supports (which includes eliminating standardized testing in elementary/middle/high school) for our youngest, most vulnerable students, then this is all done in vain.
Post by formerlyak on Jul 22, 2021 13:36:33 GMT -5
I work for the UC and totally agree with this article. I think there was a lot of pressure on the Regents to "do the right thing" and make admissions "fair". The admissions process prior to this decision had several criteria that could be used to make decisions - one was GPA, one was test scores, one was essay and there are like 8 other criteria that individual campuses can look at and weight appropriately for their campus. My campus, for example, gives weight to first gen applicants, because we have a lot of programming to support first gen students, and have one of the highest graduation rates in nation for first gen students.
Each high school has a profile. It tells the UCs what kinds of courses are offered, for example. If a kid comes from a school that only teaches one AP class and the kid took it and did well, that will hold weight in the application process over a kid who is from a school that offers 20 AP classes and they also only took one. Admissions staff at all schools, not just UC, know fairly well which high schools are known for grade inflation and which aren't. Test scores help the admissions officers get a better picture of the academic ability of an applicant. If a kid comes from a "rich" school known for grade inflation and does terribly on the SATs and their essay is full of errors, you know something is going on with the grades. On the flip side, if a kid goes to a school known for hard grading an "only" has a 3.5 weighted, but did very well on the SAT and wrote a killer essay, you know they can handle the work. One criteria alone doesn't make the decision. So eliminating one big criteria, that as mentioned in the report commissioned by Napolitano was actually an indicator of success in the UCs, throws the whole system off. I was on board with replacing the SAT with a different test designed for the UCs, but eliminating all form of standardized tests with no real plan in place except to eliminate it, makes no sense to me.
The California education system was ruined by Proposition 13. When I worked there in the 90s, the state had gone from being ranked first in K-12 education to somewhere in the mid-40s, which is shameful for the wealthiest state in the nation. So Flanagan is right that the UC system cannot make up for the twelve years of inequity during K-12.
I think admissions does care and try, based on what I saw while at Berkeley. Flanagan’s comparison of her predicted drop in the percentage of Asian students (which I doubt will happen) to the terrible discrimination of the past seemed unnecessarily inflammatory. I bet admissions is well aware of the debates going on at Harvard, in the NYC public school system, and elsewhere about how moving toward equity can punish Asian students who, as Flanagan correctly notes, are working really hard for their places, which shouldn’t be discounted. I bet they are still trying to do the right thing by weighing many factors in their admissions decisions. It has never been as simplistic as Flanagan implies.
But still, the public school system is an underfunded mess, and it’s all because wealthy people are not paying their fair share in property taxes. It is a huge racial justice issue. Admissions officers do their best to address it, but nothing meaningful will happen until rich and UMC people are willing to redress the harm Prop 13 has caused. I’m not holding my breath on that happening.
Hm. I have to process this article as a whole and look into whether this situation is unique to California, in addition to trying to fit Prop 13 in the mix as mentioned above.
I will say confidently that almost all educational DEI initiatives you’ve heard of, whether at your alma mater or in your local community, are a mirage. A checklist. Halfassed and cobbled together. Not meaningful and sustained. In part because that kind of messy work takes $$ resources, in part because they don’t know what they’re doing, and in part because white-dominant professionals don’t want to / know they need to self-reflect.
I agree that prop 13 is a big problem. But it isn't just wealthy people not paying market rate on property taxes. No long standing landowners are - rich or poor. And many couldn't afford to because of rising home values (which are driven in a big part by prop 13). The biggest problem with prop 13 is corporate property taxes. Humans die or move to nursing homes (and the recent changes mean more reassessments). Companies never do. So corporate property taxes are never reassessed.
Richer school districts are protected from some of the shortfalls because enough rich people are paying market rate property taxes and those receipts are high enough they don't rely on state funding.
Post by pinkdutchtulips on Jul 24, 2021 11:14:39 GMT -5
Prop 13 is a huge problem, especially the commercial property loophole mentioned above. Prop 13 monies go to the state for redistribution on an 'equitable' basis to districts and PTAs supplement these monies, easier for wealthier schools (bc this can vary widely within districts - dd's district has 30 elementary schools, 10 middle schools and 5 high schools) meaning that not all schools are created equal or have equal opportunities for students. There is no way to adequately bridge that gap without a massive restructuring of Prop 13 that closes the commercial loophole.