California State University System profile taken from Test Scores Do Not Equal Merit:
The Master Plan for Higher Education in California recommends that the State University (CSU) establish its freshman eligibility criteria such that the top one-third of the public high school graduating seniors are eligible to enroll as freshmen. In California's public higher education system, the 22 campuses of the State University fill the large niche between the University of California (9 campuses serving the top 12.5 percent of the state's high school graduates under the Master Plan) and the community college system. At both CSU and the University of California, eligibility does not guarantee admission to a particular campus, but it does guarantee acceptance at one institution in the system.
As of Fall 1998, California high school graduates who complete the required 15 college preparatory courses can gain eligibility for CSU either by achieving an overall grade-point average (GPA) of 3.0 or greater in their tenth, eleventh, and twelfth grade courses, excluding physical education and military science, or by earning an over-all grade-point average between 2.0 and 2.99 and having SAT or ACT scores that qualify on the State University's Eligibility Index. Students with GPAs above 3.0 do not need to submit ACT or SAT scores. (For the University of California system, students with high school GPAs above 3.3 are automatically eligible and do not need minimum SAT or ACT scores, but they must take the tests.) In 1996, the CSU eligibility pool represented 29.6 of California's public high school graduates.
The California State University (CSU) system's mission includes providing access to higher education for traditionally excluded groups. By deemphasizing test scores, CSU, which serves 276,000 undergraduates, has simultaneously succeeded in raising academic standards and promoting diversity: the student body in CSU institutions was 38.3 percent underrepresented minority in 1997, up from 22 percent in 1988.1 In 1997, 73 percent of first-time freshmen were admitted on the basis of a minimum high school grade point average (HSGPA) of 3.0 and completion of minimum college-preparatory curriculum. Students who complete the college preparatory curriculum but who fall below a 3.0 HSGPA are evaluated on the basis of a test score/HSGPA index. Students who are still not eligible are considered for "special admissions" if they have special talents or are members of protected groups. Up to 8% of first-time freshmen can be admitted in these categories. Thus, the overwhelming majority of applicants to CSU are eligible through one or another of the alternative means of admission.
CSU leaders are fully aware of the connection between test scores, lack of diversity and poor educational quality. Keith Ian Polakoff, Associate Vice-President for Academic Affairs at CSU, Long Beach, said, "I don't like test scores, and all the top administrators feel the same way. In fact, the whole CSU system has a mistrust of multiple-choice instruments. We've raised standards without raising test scores by focusing on core curriculum and HSGPA mini-mum."2 Pointing out the correlation between test scores and a student's socio-economic status, he said, "We know from experience that if a kid meets the high school grade point average minimum but their test scores are low, that usually means that their parents didn't go to college."3 According to Allison Jones, Senior Director of Access and Retention at the California State University Office of the Chancellor, the system's Eligibility Index was constructed using correlation data which show that high school grades, whatever their flaws, predict success at CSU twice as well as either the SAT or ACT:
"The analysis of the correlation at CSU between the high school grade point average and success at CSU - which we define as persistence to the second year of study - and the analysis of correlation between the student's test scores and success at CSU, again continue to demonstrate the high school grade point average is about twice as effective in predicting success as are test scores."4
CSU has never required specific test scores from applicants who meet the minimum grade-point average criteria. Recently, CSU has been confronted with a growing number of incoming students who meet grade-point average criteria but who require remedial education once on campus. On some campuses, such as Long Beach, as many as half the students who were regular (meeting either grade-point requirements or the grade-point average/test score index requirements) rather than special admits need remediation. Long Beach and several of the other CSU campuses have high percent-ages of Limited English Proficiency (LEP) and English as a Second Language (ESL) students who did well in high school but who require English remediation once on campus. Public universities across the country, including the City University of New York (CUNY), are facing similar situations.
In May 1998, trustees of CUNY voted 9-6 to require students who want to attend one of the system's 11 four-year campuses to pass three placement exams. The policy will be phased in over a three-year period beginning in 1999. According to the 1996 book, Changing the Odds,5 nearly a quarter of a million New Yorkers who would otherwise have been shut out of college have gone on to receive degrees from CUNY. One of the authors of that study, David Lavin, has calculated that the new policy would bar 38 percent of whites, 67 percent of African Americans, 70 percent of Latinos and 71 percent of Asians from the four-year schools. Half of these students are immigrants.
The change at CUNY was pushed by New York Mayor Rudi Guliani who decried the high number of system students requiring remedial education. However, in 1995, 72 percent of America's four-year colleges offered such classes, including 80 percent of public institutions. CUNY's most prestigious school, the City College School of Engineering, ranks as one of the top producers of minority engineers nationwide. A significant number of engineering graduates begin with remedial calculus. Students who need one or two remedial courses graduate at only a slightly lower rate than students who do not need remediation.
According to Polakoff, "there has been no discussion of instituting test requirements" for students who meet the current high school GPA standard because CSU does not want to retreat from its historic mission of serving as an access-oriented institution.6 In the past, CSU administrators have stated that if any changes in the acceptance rate are needed, administrators expect to adjust the HSGPA/test score index for students whose HSGPA is under 3.0, rather than to alter the test score exemption for students who meet grade-point average criteria.
Under a bill approved by the California Assembly in August 1998, CSU would be required to set up a pilot program to admit even more students without regard to SAT or ACT scores. The measure, SB 1087, was introduced by Sen. Teresa Hughes (D-Inglewood) and is intended to explore "alternative admissions" criteria.
1 Cal State Statistics (web site reference), http://www.calstate.edu, "Systemwide Enrollment by Ethnic Group, Number and Percent of Total," from Fall 1988.
2 Polakoff, Keith Ian, Assistant Vice-President for Academic Affairs and Dean of Graduate Studies, California State University, Long Beach, telephone interview, March 15, 1990.
4 Allison Jones, Testimony before the California Senate Select
Committee on Higher Education Admissions and Outreach, February 5, 1998.
5 David Lavin & David Hyllegard, Changing the Odds, New Haven. Yale University Press, 1996.
6 Polakoff, telephone interview, July 1998.
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