SAT Subject Tests: a barrier or indicator of student success?

This issue was addressed last Wednesday when the UC Board of Regents voted to change several admission policies — the most significant of which was dropping the requirement for SAT Subject Tests, formerly known as the SAT II.

These changes, which will be in effect for UC applicants for fall 2012, will eliminate the former requirement for students to submit two subject tests in order to be eligible for admission.

The proposal, put together by the Systemwide Academic Senate, concluded that “UC’s ability to draw from and identify the best qualified students will be enhanced when this barrier is removed.”

SAT Subject Tests are a barrier indeed: in 2007, 22,000 California high-school graduates who were eligible for UC admission were disqualified from review because they didn’t take the SAT Subject Tests.

The University of California was the only public education system that required students to take two SAT subject tests in order to be considered for admission. It’s problematic because these tests are expensive, which creates a disadvantage for students who could not afford to pay to take them or the preparation — tests that cost $45 in addition to fees per subject test, not including the price of tutoring and study guides.

The value of these tests were in question too, with research concluding that SAT subject tests are not an indicator of how well a person is going to perform in college.

The Regents’ move is a step in the right direction toward providing access to higher education. This decision will potentially increase the eligibility pool of UC applicants by 30,000 and provide for a more comprehensive application review, looking beyond standardized tests and putting greater emphasis on life experience and extracurricular activities. It will widen opportunities for students who come from minority groups, low-income backgrounds, and from low-performing schools.

In a report by Inside Higher Ed, an online news website for higher education, every racial group sees a projected increase in eligibility for review, with African-Americans increasing by 177 percent, whites by 77, Latinos by 86, and Asians by 26 percent.

Other changes made to the admission policy include a new financial aid policy that provides scholarships and grants to undergraduates with a family income below $60,000 for their first four years of college.

Students will also be allowed more time to complete their college preparation classes, requiring 11 out of 15 A-G course requirements by the end of their junior year.

Lastly, two pathways to guaranteed UC admission will change: the number of students guaranteed admission through high-school class rank will increase from the top 4 percent to the top 9 percent. However, it will decrease on a statewide scale, with the top 9 percent of applicants being taken instead of 12.5 percent.

All in all, these changes will allow students with fewer opportunities to have increased access to the higher education institutions that we’re fortunate enough to be a part of. We commend the UC Regents for making a decision to break barriers to higher education, instead of creating them.

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