It was bound to happen, and, not surprisingly in California. The University of California (UC) is being sued in state court because it requires applicants for admission to take either the SAT or ACT test. The allegation, unquestionably factually correct, is that minority students generally do poorly on standardized admissions tests and thus are not admitted in large numbers to the prestigious university, forcing them to attend other less competitive schools, endangering lifetime job prospects.
Facing political and potentially judicial pressure, UC may capitulate and make the school test optionala task force is looking into it, and the chancellor of the Berkeley campus favors it. In my opinion, doing that would be a big mistake: arguably Americas greatest public university would be rejecting what historical experience suggests is very good predictive indicator of the likely collegiate success of students. Why? Because it produces a student body whose ethnic/racial composition does not comport with that favored by the plaintiffs in the lawsuit and current progressive notions of distributive justice. Moreover, it is an attempt to judicially undermine the voters of California, who constitutionally mandated two decades ago in a amendment modeled after the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964 that California public institutions shall not use race, sex or ethnicity criteria in admission decisions (Proposition 209).
It is an inconvenient, uncomfortable and even highly regrettable truth that Asian and white students on average score higher on SAT or ACT tests than Hispanic or African-American ones. The reasons for this are no doubt complex and controversial. But one thing is clear: there is a relatively strong correlation between success in college and two measures of potential collegiate academic success: high school performance as measured by class rank or grade point average, and scores on college admissions tests like the SAT and ACT.
Shocking differences in indicators of learning by race are glaringly obvious. One study recently noted that the average reading capabilities of 12th grade blacks in New York City were roughly equal to that of white students who had not yet even entered high school. While high school grades matter a great deal on predicting college performance, not all high schools are not created equal, and many in the top 10% of students at some high schools in California would not make the top 25 or perhaps even 50% of students in terms of academic performance at those secondary schools with demonstrated high levels of academic performance.
It is undoubtedly true that many minority kids are hurt by attending mediocre schools, as well as other adverse factorslow family income, a disproportionate proportion of single parent families, a lack of higher education among parents and other authority figures. But is the solution to ignore educational deficiencies and admit academic less qualified minorities to prestigious universities? Would doing so in the long run dilute the reputation of UC, lowering the values of degrees of those attending such world class campuses as Berkeley and UCLA? Would it also promote academic failure among some minorities? Would not a better solution be to end the educational cesspool that defines most inner city schools disproportionately attended by racial or ethnic minorities?
The dilemma is between academic excellence and perceived equity and fairness. If UC is going to be world class, it needs both superb faculty and extraordinarily good students if it is going to excel in both the creation and dissemination of knowledge.
Suppose UC went test optional and even furthernot even look at SAT/ACT scores. Admissions officers would base decisions on very limited information, no doubt letting personal biases and prejudices enter into admission decisions, unless strict quotas were implemented based on race/ethnicity criteria, which would violate the California constitution. One of the ironies of history is that the institution of the SAT test was a factor in the decline in the then prevalent blatant anti-Semitism in admissions in the elite Ivy League schools in the middle of the 20th century. The SAT was an instrument to reduce ethnic-based forms of discrimination. Let it do its job and use other means to deal with very real racial differences in academic potential.