SAT Spat Overlooks Real Admissions Barrier

Published May 1, 2001

In proposing to drop the SAT I from the University of California’s admissions process, UC President Richard Atkinson implied it is the SAT that blocks most black and Hispanic students from entering the UC system.

But even if the SAT I were dropped tomorrow, the vast majority of black and Hispanic California high school students would be no closer to entering the UC than before. That’s because few black and Hispanic high school students take the college preparatory courses the UC requires for admission.

To be admitted into the UC system, high school students must take the so-called A-F core academic courses. These courses include specified classes in history, English, mathematics, laboratory science, foreign language, and advanced course/elective. The percentages of black and Hispanic students who complete the A-F course requirements are tragically low.

Only slightly more than a quarter of black high school students, 26.3 percent, completed the A-F courses in 1998-99, according to the California Postsecondary Education Commission’s recent publication, Student Profiles 2000. The percentage of Hispanic students was even lower, with just 22.1 percent completing the A-F courses. In other words, nearly three-quarters of black students and nearly eight out of 10 Hispanic students are, by definition, ineligible for admission into UC.

A black or Hispanic student who doesn’t complete the A-F courses is not going to enroll in the UC, even if he or she scores a perfect 1600 on the SAT. Increasing the pool of UC-eligible students, including black and Hispanic students, first requires increasing the number of students taking A-F courses. Dropping the SAT doesn’t change that number.

Increasing the number of students completing the A-F coursework will require years of work. It will mean offering more college preparatory courses at more high schools, especially those in poor inner-city areas.

It also means the K-8 classes for minority and low-income students must provide the academic knowledge, skills, and tools necessary to handle the tough A-F curriculum. Empirical research shows that whole-language reading instruction, fuzzy new math, and a maddening array of progressive teaching methods, all of which have been popular among California educators, have done more to handicap low-income students than any standardized test.

A Model for the State?

Bennet-Kew Elementary School in Inglewood, California, provides an example of what can be done to produce high achievement among low-income minority students. Bennet-Key principal Nancy Ichinaga says it is her no-nonsense phonics-based reading and computation-oriented math curriculum, plus the traditional instruction methods employed by her teachers, that have given her students the tools to succeed in the future.

Jack E. White, the noted liberal black columnist, opposes dropping the SAT, saying that if we want to increase black enrollment in higher education, “It’s going to require, among other things, installing tougher classes, especially in math, sciences, and literature, and making sure [black] kids take them; better teachers; changes in study habits; and above all else, a new burst of self-confidence.”

Lance T. Izumi is director of the Center for School Reform at the San Francisco, California-based Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy. He can be reached by email at [email protected].