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A lawsuit filed today against the University of California system seeks to eliminate SAT and ACT test score requirements from admission. NPR first reported this complaint, which argues that these tests are biased and provide no meaningful information about a student's ability to succeed in school and are therefore illegal. NPR's Elissa Nadworny reports the case affecting so many schools could have far-reaching implications.
ELISSA NADWORNY, BYLINE: If you've applied to college, you know how important these tests can be. They're essentially gatekeepers.
FATIMA MARTINEZ: I believe my future is at stake.
NADWORNY: Fatima Martinez is a senior in Los Angeles, and she knows there's a lot riding on her SAT score.
MARTINEZ: The score that I will receive will determine what colleges I can get into, including private and UC schools.
REYNA EDISS: With limited time, it's hard to answer all the questions correctly.
NADWORNY: That's Reyna Ediss, a high school senior from Santa Ana, Calif. She gets super anxious before tests, but she doesn't test super well. But her high school grades are great, and she's already taking classes at a community college.
EDISS: I feel like the exam results may not accurately represent my potential and college readiness as a student.
NADWORNY: Plaintiffs in the lawsuit filed today agree. They argue that these tests are far more likely to predict family income than if you're ready for college.
MARK ROSENBAUM: The evidence that we're basing the lawsuit on is not in dispute.
NADWORNY: That's attorney Mark Rosenbaum of the pro bono firm Public Counsel. They're representing students and a collection of advocacy groups in this lawsuit.
ROSENBAUM: What the SAT and the ACT are doing are exacerbating inequities in the public school system and keeping out, as I said, tens of thousands of deserving students every admissions cycle.
NADWORNY: The testing companies behind the ACT and the SAT maintain the tests aren't biased. But nevertheless, more and more schools are going test optional. Just this year, about 50 colleges announced the tests wouldn't be required in admissions. The University of California has long debated this issue. Nearly 50 years ago, they played a crucial role in the expansion of the SAT as a national standard. But even back then, there were concerns about limiting access. And just last year, the president of the UC system, Janet Napolitano, ordered a faculty task force to study the use of standardized tests in admissions. Leaders within the UC system have come out in favor of dropping the tests.
Here's Carol Christ, the chancellor at UC Berkeley, speaking at an event last month.
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CAROL CHRIST: I'm very much in favor of doing away with the SAT as a requirement for application.
NADWORNY: Christ's comments don't signify policy. And a spokesperson for Napolitano said the UC system doesn't plan to make any decisions until their faculty task force issues a report. But the UC system serves more than 250,000 students, so its size makes whatever it does important for the rest of the country.
BOB SCHAEFFER: If the University of California were to go ahead and drop the testing requirements, it would have profound and widespread effects in the college admissions arena.
NADWORNY: That's Bob Schaeffer, director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, an advocacy organization that's long been critical of standardized testing. But going SAT or ACT optional may not eliminate the power of the tests. If you have a good score and it's optional, that can still help you.
ROSENBAUM: There probably is no playing field less level than the journey to college and higher education.
NADWORNY: Rosenbaum said there are so many other issues in the college process, stemming from inequities in K-12. So if you drop the SAT, you still got to figure out other metrics for college admissions. That can be tricky. High school grades are often a good predictor of success, but grade inflation varies widely.
ROSENBAUM: My hope is that this case plays some part in terms of really having a thoughtful, meaningful, honest dialogue about who benefits from higher education in this country.
NADWORNY: Will the lawsuit be enough to push the University of California system to drop the tests? The UC task force investigating that question, it's expected sometime next spring.
Elissa Nadworny, NPR News.
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