UC president: Time to drop SAT I requirement

The Associated Press
Saturday February 17, 2001

BERKELEY — In a development that could affect the way high school students in California and across the nation prepare for college, University of California President Richard C. Atkinson is recommending dropping the SAT I as an admission requirement. 

Atkinson planned to announce his recommendation in a speech to the American Council on Education Sunday. 

“Anyone involved in education should be concerned about how overemphasis on the SAT is distorting educational priorities and practices, how the test is perceived by many as unfair, and how it can have a devastating impact on the self esteem and aspirations of young students,” Atkinson said in a draft copy of the speech. 

Atkinson has already asked UC’s Academic Senate, which sets admission standards, to consider dropping the SAT I, along with taking a more comprehensive look at applicants. Dropping the SAT I would require approval by the UC Board of Regents and could not take effect before fall 2003. 

Atkinson joins a growing chorus of dissatisfaction with the SAT I, taken by more than a million graduating seniors last year, and his suggestion drew strong reaction. 

“To drop the SAT would be like deciding you’re going to drop grades,” said Gaston Caperton, president of the nonprofit College Board which owns the SAT. 

“It’s an important step in the right direction,” said Robert Schaeffer of FairTest, a Cambridge, Mass., group that advocates less emphasis on standardized tests and argues that a high SAT score may have more to do with money spent on pretest coaching than ability. “There will be strong pressure on other state college systems to follow California’s lead.” 

SAT critics say high school grades are better predictors of how students will do in college than their SAT scores. But others say the SAT is crucial to providing a national yardstick – all A’s, for instance, are not created equal. 

UC now uses the SAT I and SAT II, a three-part test more closely tied to subjects studied in high school. Atkinson is not suggesting eliminating the SAT II. 

UC officials have discussed dropping the SAT I before, although there’s been no formal push to do so. In December, a draft report originating from a conference on admissions recommended reforming or eliminating the SAT I or making it optional. 

“Whether or not this can be actually changed depends a lot on what the faculty says to the regents and how the regents themselves perceive it as affecting quality,” S. Sue Johnson, regents’ chairman, said Friday. 

One of the criticisms leveled against the SAT is that it is culturally biased and unfair to disadvantaged students. Diversity in admissions has been an issue at UC since 1995, when regents voted to drop affirmative action. Numbers of black and Hispanic students have fallen at top campuses since then. 

Caperton defended the SAT as “extremely fair. What is not fair is the education system in America which gives children unequal opportunities.” 

But Atkinson said an overemphasis on SAT I scores has created the “educational equivalent of a nuclear arms race,” that hurts all involved but poses a risk to any institution that opts out. 

Some colleges have already dropped the SAT as a requirement, including Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, which is in the first year of a five-year study of what happens when the SAT becomes optional. 

Even before the change, SAT scores hadn’t greatly influenced admissions, but dropping the requirement helped dispel “the growing perception that your life is determined by these scores that you get on a Saturday morning,” said Jane Brown, vice president for enrollment and college relations. 

Caperton speculated that some would interpret eliminating the SAT I as “dropping standards for an institution that’s recognized for its excellence.” 

But Jeff Rubenstein, assistant vice president of the Princeton Review and author of several books about test preparation, said Atkinson’s announcement may prove a rallying point. 

“People are finally beginning to realize the incredibly narrow scope of what this test measures which is completely out of proportion with the importance given to it by most people,” he said. 


On the Net: University of California, http://www.ucop.edu 

FairTest: http://www.fairtest.org 

College Board: http://collegeboard.org/