A Tempest Over a Test

Dean Garcia: "In California, SAT Does Not Act as a Thermometer
of Gained Knowledge; It Acts as a Gatekeeper"

by Fernando Quintero

What seemed like a novel proposal by a UC task force on Latino student enrollment, suggesting that the university stop using Scholastic Achievement Test scores in admissions, has led to a storm of controversy and media attention.

The task force, headed by Eugene Garcia, professor and dean of the Graduate School of Education, presented a report to the UC Board of Regents Sept. 18. The report concluded that failure to make significant changes in admissions criteria will systematically reduce numbers of UC Latino students at the same time that the state's Latino population surges dramatically.

One of the task force's recommendations was to consider eliminating SAT scores as a determinant of eligibility. The idea immediately elicited passionate editorials warning of lower academic standards such a policy would usher in. Some alleged the idea was a way of circumventing the ban on affirmative action.

"I think the primary reason our study touched a nerve is Proposition 209," said Garcia.

"Three years ago, we wouldn't have gotten much publicity. As a result of 209, this issue has hit the radar screen."

Garcia said his concerns are that the study will become highly politicized, much to the detriment of Latino students.

"We have to deal with this as a state and local educational issue. I don't want this to become legislated by Washington.

"We've made our recommendations to the faculty committee that makes admissions policy. That is where such policy decisions belong."

Garcia argues that UC relies on the SAT beyond its statistical ability to predict an applicant's potential to succeed in college. At best, SAT scores predict about 25 percent of the variation in first-year college grades and they are not a reliable predictor of whether someone will graduate.

"If we're using the SAT, we ought to have clear evidence that it does what it is supposed to do. It's an issue of credibility and reliability of the SAT.

"The second, more substantive issue, is educational reform. We don't need national involuntary standards. We need state standards. SAT's are not aligned with any standards. We need a standards-based test for California," said Garcia.

"In California, SAT does not act as a thermometer of gained knowledge; it acts as a gatekeeper."

The task force, comprised of faculty and administrators from all nine campuses as well as the Office of the President, urged renewed partnerships between UC and the state's K-12 system, with the goal of improving academic standards statewide. But school reform is a long-term solution.

Garcia believes that in the interim, we must find ways to give all students a fair chance at admissions rather than penalizing those attending substandard schools.

"If (the SAT) adds value to the admissions process, we should know what the circumstances are where it adds value, and we should also know where it's detrimental," said Garcia. "Where it's fair for the migrant kid from Watsonville, the inner city kid and for the kid from an upper middle-class suburb."



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