As many of you may have heard, recently, the University of California was sued by a coalition of students, advocacy groups and a largely black and Hispanic California school district over the requirement that students submit SAT/ACT scores with admission.

Now, to me, this lawsuit against UC schools seems unwarranted on multiple fronts, particularly as UC schools are perhaps some of the least culpable offenders when it comes to relying heavily on standardized test scores as an indicator of fitness for admission.

Case in point:

1)   UC administrators have recently announced serious consideration of going test optional for the entire school system.

2)   In my experience and from my research, UC schools de-emphasize test scores for in-state California applicants more than any other highly ranked universities in the country. True, they aren’t yet test optional, but if you look at the admissions profiles of those admitted, UC schools are committed to increasing access by low income and first generation students in ways that other universities aren’t.  Specifically, UC schools have admission goals for in state students along two paths, essentially, to guarantee admission to the top 9% of students at a local, school level and at a state-wide level.

The first of these two paths is called the local path. With the local path, you’re “guaranteed” admission UC campus (if space is available at this point, as application rates have skyrocketed) not based on your test scores, but wholly on your class rank. Literally your GPA. That’s it.

The second of these two paths is called the state path. With the state path, students are compared against others in the state in a way that also includes their test scores. This method, obviously, makes more space for students in extremely competitive and high performing environments, and granted, does reflect a preference for test scores.

In this sense, UC schools can admit the highest performers regardless of context with the local path, and still retain opportunity for those who place themselves in competitive environments and still show college readiness via the state path.

True, the pledge is not for admission to any particular school, it’s to “a” UC school. Often Berkeley, UCLA and even UCSD become filled with applicants far before this 9% is reached (more like 1-3%).

Still, as a tutor, I see MANY students who are high achieving on tests but not in their school’s top 2% say in GPA get rejected by UCLA and Berkeley. I see these colleges shunning students who get into even Ivy League or top 20-30 schools besides UC schools.

If anything as a college consultant I am grateful for the variance in admissions policies that UC offers that other colleges do not. It offers more space for public school students and students who lack advantages that those at higher performing or private schools often have.

Now that’s not to say that Black/Hispanic high achieving students in the Compton school district aren’t getting edged out of spots at UC schools; they probably are. But the reason why may have much less to do with their SAT scores than with several other factors.

  1. A) First, some of the more competitive UC schools (UCLA, UCSB and UCSD) are oddly admitting high school matriculating freshman at much higher rates from out of state than in state. This is not an issue of test scores, but one of quotas and competition. Take for example UCLA. Forbes reported that this past admission class was admitted at a rate of 12% for in state applicants, but over 20% for out of state applicants. If anything, the fairness argument should be that UC schools should be serving California since our taxes pay for them, and thus the admission rate for in state students should parallel that of (or exceed that of) out of state students.
  2. B) MANY competitive UC schools run large transfer programs. Approximately 1/5 of admitted UC students are transfers and overall they’re admitted at much higher rates than those applying as traditional freshman. (Granted, some very impacted majors may be tougher as a transfer than an undergrad). This means less room in the freshman class. Still, the argument here is somewhat moot: community college transfers at UC schools generally are not required to send test scores.
  3. C) UC schools are race blind, and this typically advantages Asian Americans, who perform better not only at standardized tests (thus likely filling that 9% state wide segment of the admissions profile) but also in terms of GPA. They’re the highest performing ethnic group in terms of numbers, and UC admission rates directly reflect this. Thus a high school with a high proportion of African American and Latino students—well–  if they’re not at the top of their class, they’re also not getting into UC schools. The other trade off: many students who do get in, also get into schools that aren’t race blind and have full admission offers. I.e. the kid from Compton who qualifies for UCLA may also get into U Chicago or Stanford or Harvard on a full ride. And if so, he’s quite possibly going elsewhere for college. What that means is that UC campuses may lack presence of African American students at the rates that would reflect the proportion of such students in the general population.

When I interviewed presidential candidate Andrew Yang this summer I thought he had a pretty decent idea on one solution to this fiasco: GROWTH. Hey UCLA and Berkeley, can you double the size of your computer science department? Obviously the problem with growth is that it increases the admit rate, which then could impact rankings, and thus no one wants to increase admit rates.

Now I’m not saying that it isn’t troubling that kids in Compton aren’t feeling like they have access to education. I hear you. It’s troubling; it’s a problem.

But is the solution suing the school system that actually provides a path that is based on GPA without test scores?

I think the bigger problem is that many students in Compton schools are failing when it comes to college readiness indicators.

I agree test scores aren’t perfect. They’re blunt. They can be taught. But some of what I teach—the difference between a 400 or 500 and 600 on math or reading/writing sections — even a 650– when I teach test prep are actual skills and problem solving and ways of thinking that have actual value. For example, understanding percents and rates. Reading comprehension at a basic level. These are important concepts if someone wants to grow up and participate in our society and contribute to it in a meaningful way. What’s tragic is that kids out there want to learn more and apply themselves more and they don’t have the resources to do it.

So please.

Don’t blame the educators. Don’t blame me the tutor who is trying to help people learn. Blame inequality. Blame poor education resources. Blame a lack of funding in high schools. Blame capitalism.

Because when we live in a society where there are winners and losers, where everything is a competition, some one isn’t going to make the cut.

So maybe our better option is make the team bigger. Or make more teams or train everyone more.

That’s not going to get everyone into UC schools. Some of you are still going to be rejected. But at least you’ll have the skills you need to fulfill your potential in the world. Easier said than done.