A key University of California academic committee recommended this week that the UC system drop the SAT as an admissions requirement, and develop a test more closely aligned with California’s high school curricula.
“We want to emphasize students’ achievement in the high school ... so that the admissions test reflects what they’ve learned,” said Dorothy Perry, an associate professor in dentistry at the UC San Francisco, and chair of the committee that made the recommendation.
Perry’s group, the Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools, or BOARS, made the suggestion one year after UC President Richard Atkinson directed the Academic Senate, which represents all UC faculty, to consider eliminating the SAT as an admissions requirement.
Currently, the UC system requires prospective students to take either the SAT I, a two-part math and verbal test, or an alternative test called the ACT assessment. UC also requires students to take the SAT II, which includes three tests – one in writing, one in math and one in an area of the pupil’s choice.
In the coming months, the “divisional Senates” at each of the nine UC campuses will examine the BOARS recommendations, and make comments. Then, the larger Academic Senate will vote on the proposal. If approved, the recommendations will go to the UC Board of Regents for a final vote. The BOARS committee expects implementation by 2006.
After a year of study, the committee concluded that “achievement-oriented” tests, like the SAT-II, which focus on specific subjects, are better predictors of success at the college level than “aptitude-oriented tests,” like the SAT-I, that center on general math and verbal skills.
As a result of their study, the committee recommended a move to a new testing regimen, emphasizing achievement-oriented testing.
Students would take a three-hour core test, focused on math and language arts skills, and including a writing sample, and two, one-hour subject exams, with some degree of student choice about the subjects selected. All three tests, according to the committee, should mirror what is being taught in high schools throughout California.
Some in the UC community object to the BOARS recommendations. Matthew Malkan, professor of physics and astronomy at UCLA, said the committee is recommending a serious change with little cause.
“My main gripe with this is that they’re proposing really quite a big leap into the dark, with many complications, and with very little motivation,” Malkan said, arguing that the BOARS study does not reveal a substantial difference between the value of aptitude-oriented tests like the SAT-I and achievement-oriented tests like the SAT-II.
Any switch, he said, could create confusion among students who want to apply to both the UC system, using the new tests, and other universities, which would still require the SAT-I.
“We’re very concerned about that,” Perry responded, noting that BOARS has recommended the development of tests that would be transferable to other universities.
Chiara Coletti, vice president of public affairs for The College Board, which administers the SAT, defended the exam. “We think it is an excellent test,” she said, “the most scrutinized and researched in the country.”
Still, she said The College Board is prepared to work with UC, the largest user of the SAT in the nation, to create new tests. “Opportunities to experiment and help produce new, and very good tests are something we’re very excited to do,” she said.
Ken Gullette, director of media relations for ACT, said his company’s assessment, which includes English, reading, math and science components, is already curriculum-based. He said that, with the addition of a writing sample, he believes ACT could meet the proposed new standards.
At present, according to the BOARS report, 73 percent of UC applicants take the SAT-I, compared with 25 percent who take the SAT-I and ACT, and 2 percent who take ACT alone.
Local educational leaders were generally supportive of the BOARS recommendations. “I think it’s fine,” said Shirley Issel, president of the Berkeley Board of Education, “as long as (the new test) aligns with the California state standards.”
School board member John Selawsky said he believes the SAT-I is a flawed predictor of success in college. But, he said he had concerns about curriculum-based tests given that some schools may not be as strong as others in teaching to the state standards.
“My only concern is that a kid is going to be punished if a kid is not being taught those standards,” he said.