July 18, 2003

UC Regents approve new admissions test policy

The San Fransisco Chronicle reports on actions by the UC Regents at their meeting of July 16-17. A 25% fee increase, a ban on romances between faculty and their students, and then this.

In other action, the regents approved a new admissions test policy to require students entering UC in 2006 to take a new SAT I that includes a writing exam, or the ACT with an added writing component. In addition, students will have to take two SAT IIs in subjects such as history/social science, English, mathematics, laboratory science or a foreign language. They currently take three SAT IIs: math, writing and one of their choice.

UC initiated the changes in its testing policy in 2001 after President Richard Atkinson said that the SAT I did not test what students were learning in the classroom. After he called for UC to scrap the test, the College Board decided to revamp it, dropping the analogies, changing the math and adding a writing component.

Under the new UC requirement, the SAT II exams will no longer be weighted twice as heavily as the SAT I.

"I think this is sending a message to the schools on the importance of writing at an early age and focusing on certain mathematics skills," Atkinson said. "I think we have accomplished a great deal."

Now, I recall Atkinson's call to drop the SAT-I requirement, and I recall when in response the College Board announced that it was changing the nature of the SAT-I by adding a writing component. Some notable critical comments at the time came from Stanley Kurtz in NRO and from Heather Mac Donald in City Journal. I also recall comments by Columbia University President Lee Bollinger.

As I understood the issue, the claimed intent of Atkinson and the California Regents was that the UC system would rely for its admissions decisions more on subject oriented tests and less on an aptitude test. Looking at the whole enchilada as the SF Chronicle presents it, however, I don't see this happening in a significant way. Previously the applicants submitted a two-part (three-hour) SAT-I and three one-hour SAT-II subject tests and the subject tests were weighted twice as heavily as the SAT-I (I assume it means the subject tests together carried twice the weight of the SAT-I). Now they have a three-part SAT-I and two SAT-II tests, and I guess that they are weighted equally. It looks like a marginal change, and it is hard to discern if it increases emphasis on subject matter at all. Applicants no longer have to take the SAT-II mathematics test. Moreover, as I understand it, the standardized tests continue to have less weight than high school grades.

I'm sympathetic to an increased emphasis on standardized subject matter tests in college admissions decisions. Let universities move to requiring their applicants to submit test scores for at least English writing, English reading and literature, mathematics, two or three sciences, one foreign language, U.S. history, and world history. Leave it to the applicants to choose in each case what test best fits their background: an SAT subject test, an AP or IB, or something like the New York Regents. Use those tests scores in addition to the high school transcript - it will offer a mechanism to keep high school grades honest at the same time.

Posted by Bas Braams at July 18, 2003 11:05 PM