People Are Threatening To Sue The UC System If It Doesn't Ditch Its SAT And ACT Requirements

The recent college admissions scandal allegedly involved some parents hiring special proctors to administer entrance exams to their children and correct their answers. (Seth Perlman/AP)

A coalition of 12 advocacy groups, including law firms and a school district, sent a letter Tuesday demanding the University of California stop requiring applicants to submit results from the SAT or ACT standardized tests for admission.

"[The requirement] creates unlawful barriers for talented and qualified students with less wealth, talented and qualified students from underrepresented minorities," said Mark Rosenbaum of the pro bono law firm Public Counsel. He said the coalition will file a lawsuit in state court against the UC system if it fails to act on the demand letter in the next 10 days.

The group said wealthier students are able to boost their test scores by paying for costly SAT test prep courses or tutoring. Test developers, they say, exclude questions that minority students do well on and include word-heavy math problems that discriminate against English learners. Use of the test, the group argues, violates four sections of the California Constitution, including equal protection provisions that prohibit intentional discrimination based on race, wealth, or disability.

The group's letter to the UC Regents, the system's decision-making body, comes amid intensifying scrutiny of how colleges and universities admit students — from challenges to universities' use of race for student admission to parents pleading guilty to bribing university officials to secure admission for their children.

UNDERREPRESENTED AND POORER STUDENTS LEFT BEHIND

The coalition includes the Compton Unified School District, Stockton's Little Manila Foundation and other groups that work in low-income California neighborhoods. The groups said there's no room on standardized tests to account for the additional hurdles students in their communities face to qualify for college.

"[The SAT] doesn't account for the domestic violence that I endured," said Kawika Smith, a senior at Verbum Dei High School in South L.A., who spoke during a telephone press conference organized by the group, "nor does the SAT showcase to the UCs that I recently gave a TEDx talk about me addressing the discriminatory policy at my school."

Rosenbaum said UCs should rely more on high school grades and evaluations from teachers and counselors in admissions decisions. A UC spokeswoman did not reply to the group's allegations or the demand that UC scrap the tests. She did say the UC Academic Senate is expected to recommend whether to keep or get rid of these tests within the next nine months.

A year ago, UC President Janet Napolitano asked UC's Academic Senate, the body representing faculty, to study and report on how standardized tests impact admissions. That report and recommendations are expected before the end of this academic year, the spokeswoman said. Any recommendation would have to be approved by UC's Board of Regents.

No university system in this country has acted to eliminate standardized test results from admissions requirements. U.C. admission requirements say freshman applicants must submit their test scores from the ACT with writing, or the SAT with an essay; submitting tests scores for particular subjects — often done to demonstrate proficiency in that subject — is optional. Gov. Gavin Newsom has been critical of standardized tests used for college admission.

A list maintained by FairTest shows a growing number of mostly small colleges across the country telling applicants they don't have to submit results from the SAT or ACT.

DEVELOPERS SAY THEIR TESTS ARE UNBIASED

The companies that create and administer the SAT and ACT defended their tests as unbiased.

"The notion that the SAT is discriminatory is false," the College Board, which runs the SAT, said by email.

"Our focus, with our members and partners, is combating these longstanding inequalities," the College Board added. "More than 140 school districts and County Offices of Education across California, including some of the largest and most diverse districts in the state, support using the redesigned SAT as part of their efforts to improve college readiness and break down barriers to college."

The company that runs the ACT said that the differences seen in its test results mirror those differences seen between groups in graduation rates and grades.