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A Difference of Opinion Editors: Potential lawsuit over UC admissions’ use of SAT, ACT – unfeasible vs. necessary

The long-standing debate of whether students’ standardized testing scores should be considered in the admissions process has been met with a potential lawsuit against the University of California. (Daily Bruin file photo)

By Lena Nguyen and Lucy Carroll

Nov. 3, 2019 11:35 p.m.

The University of California is facing a potential lawsuit from students and organizations if it continues its use of standardized testing in the admissions process. The Opinion editors took their stances in the latest edition of “A Difference of Opinion Editors.”

Lucy Carroll, Opinion editor

Scantrons and writing samples aren’t a fan favorite, but it seemed unlikely that standardized testing would lead to a lawsuit.

And it seemed even more unlikely that lawsuit would come from a collection of high schools and high schoolers.

Lawyers representing members of those groups sent a letter to the UC last week, threatening to sue the University if standardized testing is not removed from the UC’s admission process. Three students and multiple organizations, including Compton Unified School District and several public advocacy groups, said the UC is noncompliant with state laws and is failing to provide equal access to students via its use of the SAT and ACT in admissions.

Both tests have been criticized for their inaccessibility for minority and low-income students, as well as students with disabilities.

Yes, there are major problems with standardized testing. But threatening unprecedented legal action against the UC is not the answer. The University is one of the biggest pathways for low-income and minority in-state students, and despite the SAT’s and ACT’s inherent biases and issues, their continued presences do not warrant lawsuits against an institution actively reevaluating its admissions process.

It’s not like this issue hasn’t been on the UC’s mind. Audits of its admissions process have been ongoing, and it is currently working on internal assessments of standardized testing. So while the UC works on evaluating a sweeping institutional change, these lawsuits would only serve to potentially divert funding and resources from the University.

The SAT and ACT are years-old staples of the higher education admissions process, and their roots run deep within the University and its admissions process. Naturally, removing them will be a long-term process – and a slew of lawsuits will only serve to further slow it.

Meanwhile, the plaintiffs are intent on framing this as an equal-access problem.

And they’re not wrong – but their target is.

The UC is something California students from low-income and minority communities rely on as a path to higher education. This is evident considering the extensive transfer pathway plans, work with K-12 public schools, and funding for students attending summer programs and the like.

Of course, the University has a responsibility to provide equal access to all its applicants – and the test it currently uses arguably does not do so. But hurling lawsuits at it during a potentially massive system overhaul is not an effective way to encourage change.

The UC is by no means perfect, but these groups aren’t giving it a chance to prove its ability to make institutional change.

And if they don’t, the University will be too busy drowning in litigation to have a fighting chance at change.

Lena Nguyen, Assistant Opinion editor

As a beacon of higher education and accessibility, the UC has worked hard to build its educational pipeline for students from every school, state and background.

So when those prospective students say standardized testing is a major barrier to their equal access to education, the UC needs to listen, instead of deflecting those concerns.

The SAT and ACT have long been criticized as deeply flawed metrics of a student’s success and potential to succeed in a new academic environment. As the tests are riddled with socioeconomic and racial disparities, as well as poor alternatives for students with disabilities, it’s a shame that it took a potential lawsuit for the UC to take notice.

The lawyers representing students and organizations involved in this potential lawsuit highlighted these points in their letter to the UC – and for good reason. The status quo has long been to ignore the disparities between students’ preparations and performances, even if it means disregarding the barriers that low-income and multilingual students, as well as those with disabilities, might face in performing up to par with the average student backed by hundreds in test-preparation courses.

That’s not what equal access to education sounds like, and it’s the fundamental argument students and schools have against standardized testing being used in the admissions process. Having doors glimmering with opportunities shut because of a single test bars millions of students from discovering their true potential in life.

As a statewide institution, the UC has a responsibility to uplift and support students from all educational backgrounds – not just the students who can afford to succeed through an unjust measure of capability.

Of course, the loss of a standardized measurement of academic prowess in the UC application would make the admissions process tougher for the UC, sifting through the thousands of yearly applicants. But behind every single application, grade, test score, award and extracurricular is a person affected by their socioeconomic upbringing – something that can’t be holistically accounted for with test scores.

Shortcuts should not be an option when a student’s future is in an admissions officer’s hands.

This potential lawsuit is a step in the right direction for a possible shake-up of the entire admissions process for an institution as big and established as the UC. Such sincere complaints and voiced concerns are the actions that need to be taken to ensure a response on the UC’s behalf.

A student that has had all the odds stacked against them, with no help from the College Board, the ACT or even the public education school system, should never be denied the opportunity to thrive based on a test so clearly ridden with racial and socioeconomic biases.

These students are rightfully stepping up to take legal action against testing systems that have long discouraged them.

And if the University knows what’s best, it won’t go on to discourage them in that endeavor.

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Lena Nguyen | Alumna
Nguyen was the 2020-2021 Social Media Director. She was previously the 2019-2020 assistant Opinion editor and editorial board member.
Nguyen was the 2020-2021 Social Media Director. She was previously the 2019-2020 assistant Opinion editor and editorial board member.
Carroll was the 2020-2021 Managing editor. She was previously the Opinion Editor.
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