High school students, admissions equity organizations and a Los Angeles school district filed two lawsuits against the University of California on Tuesday, claiming that the use of standardized testing in undergraduate admissions is discriminatory.
The lawsuits, which were filed on behalf of high school and city college students, as well as the Compton Unified School District, request that the UC cease using the SAT and ACT in its admissions process.
Mark Rosenbaum, directing attorney at Public Counsel, a pro bono law firm, said in a teleconference that he believes the SAT and ACT provide advantages to students from privileged socioeconomic backgrounds, while disadvantaging underrepresented minority students.
He added that they were reluctant to file the lawsuits, but ultimately did after they failed to get the UC to end the requirement voluntarily.
UC spokesperson Claire Doan said in an emailed statement that the UC is disappointed that the plaintiffs decided to file the lawsuit.
President Janet Napolitano requested that the Academic Senate conduct a formal review on the use of standardized testing in July 2018, Doan added. The task force is expected to provide recommendations by early 2020, she said.
“The University of California has already devoted substantial resources to studying this complex issue,” Doan said.
However, Rosenbaum said he does not think this is enough.
“The current review by the University (Academic) Senate task force of standardized tests is not a substitute for this lawsuit,” he said. “It’s not even a deliberation on the legality of the use of these tests. It has no fixed end date, and at best it will only result in recommendations.”
Evidence has shown that neither test provides meaningful information about students’ abilities to succeed in college and that the tests are largely a proxy for students’ socioeconomic backgrounds and races, Rosenbaum added.
“If the SAT means anything, that stands for ‘Socioeconomic Advantage Test,’” he said. “It is illegal. It is illegal wealth and race discrimination that damages the futures of tens of thousands (of students).”
The lawsuit also seeks to end discrimination against students with disabilities in standardized testing, which can take the form of inaccessible test sites or failure to approve necessary accommodations, Rosenbaum said.
“When it comes to the use of the SAT and the ACT, the UC Regents are on the wrong side of history,” he said. “(We are a state) where what, tragically, matters for students seeking to better their circumstances and to make a better world are the unearned privileges of family affluence and majority race.”
Mo Hyman, executive director of College Access Plan, a nonprofit organization that aims to reduce gaps in access to college information, and one of the plaintiffs, said in the organization’s research to provide test preparation to students, it’s found that the SAT and ACT are poor indicators of college readiness and are barriers to college access.
The one thing these tests consistently correlate with is wealth, Hyman said.
“Our participation in this action is not meant to be antagonistic to the UC, but rather stems from our deep respect of the UC system as an engine for intellectual development and economic mobility,” Hyman said.
Kawika Smith, a senior at Verbum Dei High School and a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said standardized tests, such as the SAT and ACT, don’t take into account her trauma and experiences.
“It does not report to the UC that I am a survivor of being raped in the sixth grade, and homeless consistently from second to eighth grade,” Smith said. “It doesn’t account for the domestic violence that I’ve endured, the witnessing of a murder before I was even in third grade, or the death of my brother, which led to me taking over a week off of school, my second semester of my junior year.”
According to the complaint, the UC’s use of a holistic admissions, which aims to consider both academic and nonacademic achievements in relation to the opportunities students had access to, does not reduce the discriminatory impacts of the SAT and ACT.
“Although UC professes to employ a ‘holistic’ review process to evaluate applicants, that process is irretrievably tainted by its requirement that applicants submit SAT and ACT scores,” the complaint read.
Smith said that these tests do not show to the UCs that she recently gave a TEDx talk about addressing a discriminatory policy at her school or her participation on her neighborhood council.
“Standardized tests like the SAT reminds me that racism and classism have only become more sophisticated,” Smith said. “Instead of straight out saying people of color and underprivileged people aren’t allowed, a test is in place to illegitimately justify why such groups of people are not suitable for the UC system.”