University of California President Richard Atkinson recommended Sunday that the University stop using the SAT I, a standardized test taken last year by almost 2.5 million prospective students, as a basis for admission.
In the keynote address of the annual meeting of the American Council on Education in Washington, D.C., Atkinson said his research over the last year has convinced him that an “overemphasis on the SAT is compromising our educational system.”
The test, given several times each year by the Educational Testing Service, a private nonprofit organization, is intended to assess college aptitude based on scores from a range of verbal and math questions.
However, in his speech Atkinson questioned what the SAT actually measures. He said the test does not relate to the high school curriculum and because of this it has taken on the perception of measuring innate ability, like an IQ test would.
Still, college admissions officers at almost 90 percent of the nation’s universities rely on the scores to choose between thousands of applicants. UCSB, which uses an eligibility index of SAT I and SAT II scores plus high school GPA, received 39,935 applications for Fall Quarter 2001 and can only accept around 15,000 students.
Atkinson said reliance on the SAT distorts educational priorities and is unfair. Minority groups have criticized the test because on average, whites and Asians score better than Latinos and African Americans.
“The real basis for their concern,” Atkinson said, “is that they have no way of knowing what the SAT measures and, therefore, have no basis for assessing its fairness or helping their children acquire the skills to do better.”
Gaston Caperon, president of the College Board, which owns the SAT, released a response Sunday saying any disparities in test scores result from the educational system.
“It is true that some groups of students do not perform as well as other groups on standardized tests, including the SAT,” he said in the statement. “As do all high-quality assessments, the SAT scores reflect unfairness in our educational system.”
Caperon said in the statement that the UC’s current admissions system, which uses the SAT along with grades and extracurricular activities, is “one of the fairest and most effective admissions processes in the country.”
Atkinson said his research has convinced him otherwise. Last year, he said, 150,000 students paid over $100 million for SAT preparation classes. And in his trips across the state, Atkinson said he saw 12-year-olds in private schools studying verbal analogies for the SAT.
“Given attempts by some individuals and institutions to gain any advantage, fair or foul, is it any wonder that leaders of minority communities perceive the SAT to be unfair?” he said.
“The SAT is proven to be an unfair test, because high scores are oftentimes related to family income,” External Vice President for Statewide Affairs Edith Sargon said. “I think it’s an elitist way of basing admissions, and I think it’s going to be an amazing thing to get that out of California.”
The average SAT score for UCSB freshmen last fall was 1188, the fourth highest among UC schools, behind Berkeley, Los Angeles and San Diego. The number has risen considerably over the last several years, which school administrators have said is an indication of the school’s growing academic quality.
“I think they should keep using it,” freshman music major Robert Cruz said. “They use it in addition to some other stuff, like grade point average and extracurriculars, so it’s fair.”
Some students, however, question the SAT’s relevance to a college education.
“I don’t think it’s a fair test at all,” senior political science major John Gonzalez said. “It doesn’t have anything to do with how you’re going to do in college. It didn’t do a thing.”
If the 26-member UC Board of Regents decides to accept Atkinson’s proposal, the university could stop using the SAT as soon as 2003, UC officials said. Most regents said they would either defer to the president’s judgment or wait until the Academic Senate, an organization of UC faculty, delivers its own opinion.