The regents of the University of California spoke as one when they unanimously scrapped the Scholastic Aptitude Test in a virtual meeting last month. “I believe the test is a racist test,” said one regent, Jonathan Sures. “There’s no two ways about it.”
But the regents’ decision flouted a unanimous faculty-senate vote a few weeks earlier to retain the SAT for now, after a yearlong study by a task force found the test neither “racist” nor discriminatory and not an obstacle to minorities in any way.
The 228-page report, loaded with hundreds of displays of data from the UC’s various admissions departments, found that the SAT and a commonly used alternative test, ACT (also eliminated), helped increase black, Hispanic and Native-American enrollment at the system’s 10 campuses.
“To sum up,” the task force report determined, “the SAT allows many disadvantaged students to gain guaranteed admission to UC.”
So how could the liberal governing board of a major university system reject the imprimatur of its own liberal faculty researchers and kill a diversity accelerator in the name of the very diversity desired?
The answer: The urgency of political momentum against the tests proved irresistible and swept away the research and data.
Standardized tests were created about 100 years ago by what became the College Board to provide qualified Jews, Italians, Irish and others a better chance of getting into elite institutions dominated at the time by privileged, well-connected, mostly Protestant families. The idea was that the test created a national standard by which all students from all parts of the country and backgrounds could be compared.
But over the years some minority groups have scored significantly lower on the test than others. This has led many educators, civil rights activists and some academics to argue that the tests are racially biased obstacles to the goals of opportunity and diversity.
They say the tests favor affluent families, most of them white, who are able to pay for things like private tutoring and summer enrichment programs of the sort that are out of reach for poorer families. This was the prevailing view among the UC regents.
The debate, far from new, is complicated and something of a scholarly maze with numerous research studies seeming to support one or another side of the question. But there was little ambiguity in the findings of the rebuffed UC faculty task force — scholars from different fields who in almost any context would be considered solidly liberal and who studied the SAT specifically as it is used in the University of California system.