Affirmative Action Ban Aids

University Testing

Some call it the perfect political irony for our times. As the assault on affirmative action in college admissions by groups who imply test scores accurately measure merit has intensified, the movement for test score-optional admissions is simultaneously gathering strength.


In an odd way, right-wing pressure has proven the arguments of test score critics: heavy reliance on SAT, ACT, LSAT, GMAT, and GRE scores undermines both equity and excellence in higher education. The success of the nearly 300 undergraduate institutions which do not use SAT or ACT scores to make admissions decisions about many applicants (see Examiner, Summer 1997) has provided an increasingly attractive alternative.


Earlier this year, Texas trumped Hopwood at the undergraduate level by ending test score requirements for applicants who scored in the top 10 percent of their high school classes after a committee demonstrated the negative impact of SAT and ACT scores on diversity and academic quality (see Examiner, Spring 1997 and Summer 1997). Now, a similar committee in California has recommended ending use of the SAT in determining state university admissions.


Test Score Optional in California?

 In a mid-summer report, the University of California (UC) Latino Eligibility Task Force found, The SAT seems to have been a barrier for eligibility and participation in the University of California for Latinos, women, and other disadvantaged students, since it was incorporated into UC admissions requirements in 1968. The Task Force concluded, Eliminating the SAT requirement would greatly expand Latino student eligibility without compromising the integrity of UC's ability to select those students who are most likely to succeed in its programs.


California's nine state university campuses use formulas which combine high school grades and test scores to determine admissions for many applicants. This process has already been criticized by UC Berkeley researchers for excluding many females with superior academic qualifications (see Examiner, Summer 1995).


Instead of reliance on the SAT, the Latino Eligibiity Task Force urged all state university campuses to create admissions alternatives and expand admissions opportunities for community college transfers. The recommendations now go to the state Board of Regents, which had barred racial and gender preferences in admissions even before the passage of a similar ban in Proposition 209. Somewhat surprisingly, initial reaction by many Regents, including Prop. 209 sponsor Ward Connerly, was positive. But Governor Pete Wilson says he is adamantly opposed to eliminating the test score requirement.


Legislation granting automatic admission to state universities for students who graduate from high school in the top 12.5 percent of their classes, without regard to test scores, has been filed by State Senator Teresa Hughes. The middle tier of California s public higher education system, its state colleges, already does not require test scores from applicants with high school grade point averages of 3.0 or better. Interest in similar proposals for the state s most selective schools may increase now that the US Supreme Court has refused to consider an appeal challenging Proposition 209.


Meanwhile, the US Department of Education is continuing to investigate a claim that the current University of California law school admissions system discriminates by relying on rules, including test score-based formulas which favor white and male students (see Examiner, Spring 1997).


Enrollment data for this fall show a huge decline in the numbers of African American and Mexican American students in UC graduate programs. For example, only three of 91 first-year medical students at the UC Davis campus are African American or Latino.


Yet, recent research on the performance of UC Davis medical students published in the October 8, 1997 Journal of the American Medical Association found that those admitted under affirmative action and other special consideration programs had academic and professional records quite similar to regular admits. Minority students comprised 43 percent of the special admissions category but just 4 percent of those accepted using Davis standard grades and test scores criteria. Thus, the study concluded, Criteria other than undergraduate grade point average and Medical College Admissions Test scores can be used in predicting success in medical school. An admissions process that allows for ethnicity and other special characteristics to be used heavily in admissions decisions yields powerful effects on the diversity of the student population and shows no evidence of diluting the quality of graduates.


Michigan Next Target

The same conservative legal advocacy group which brought the Hopwood case against the state of Texas admissions system has filed suit against Michigan on similar grounds. The Center for Individual Rights claims that state universities use different admissions scales for minority and white applicants. Plaintiffs allege that this results in less qualified students being admitted.


The Michigan case is clearly designed to intimidate other colleges and graduate schools which have affirmative action admissions policies. Michael McDonald, the president of the Center for Individual Rights, was widely quoted saying, This lawsuit should serve notice on college presidents everywhere that they will be held individually liable under federal civil-rights laws if they do not act now to bring their admissions policies into compliance with the law.


Like Texas and California, Michigan should be ripe for test score-optional admissions. Though media reports have repeatedly labeled the University of Michigan as highly selective, nearly two-thirds of applicants are admitted. At the flagship state campus in Ann Arbor for example, about 13,000 of the 20,000 students who apply are accepted. Clearly, admissions decisions of similar quality could be made without reliance on test scores.


As affirmative action opponents focus on additional states in the wake of the US Supreme Court s refusal to overturn California's Proposition 209, advocates of equity and excellence should increasingly look to test score-optional admissions policies as an increasingly viable alternative.


Check out our list of 4-year colleges and universities that do not use SAT or ACT scores to make admissions decisions about all their freshman applicants.