For the many of us who treasure the University of California’s tradition of academic excellence, opportunity and diversity, it is disappointing to learn that the UC system is proposing a move that could diminish opportunities for tens of thousands of UC applicants from minority, immigrant and disadvantaged families.
The UC Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools wants to end its requirement of SAT subject tests as a factor in admissions. Unlike the much broader SAT, subject tests measure a student’s knowledge of specific subject areas covering 20 different topics, from advanced mathematics and science to fine art and language skills. Critics say the tests contribute little to predicting college success and may hurt the chances of minority students.
Yet the facts strongly show otherwise. Subject tests can play a big part in helping students succeed once they enter college. The freshman year is often the most difficult, and subject tests help determine appropriate course selection and placement, giving students a better chance at finishing college.
Subject tests are also valuable in identifying students with exceptional skills who might not score as well on the SAT. This is especially important for students whose first language isn’t English. Thousands of bright students who might otherwise be denied admission can get their chance at the quality education they deserve because of subject tests.
In 2007, there were 10,010 UC applicants who scored below 550 on the SAT yet scored more than 700 on one or more subject tests, showing tremendous knowledge and aptitude in particular areas of study. Among this group of applicants, more than 3,700 were Asian, Asian American or Pacific Island students. An additional 3,350 were Mexican or Mexican American, and more than 1,500 were other Latino students.
As a whole, these students represented about 7.5% of all applicants to the University of California last year.
Why would a system dedicated to diversity and opportunity even consider such a move? Some argue that subject tests are a financial burden on poor families. However, the College Board, which administers the SAT subject tests, provides fee waivers to every eligible student. For low-income students, the expense is eliminated at no cost to the UC system or California taxpayers.
Others claim that eliminating the subject test requirement from the admissions process helps maintain high academic standards. But considering that English is not the first language for thousands of students, subject tests may actually identify bright students who have not yet mastered the English language.
I recall my own circumstances as a 10-year-old immigrant from Vietnam who arrived in the U.S. with little more than the clothes on my back and an English vocabulary of two words. It took time and hard work, but eventually I attended UC Irvine and graduated in 1989. This was the fulfillment of a dream for me and my family, and it forever altered the course of my life.
There are many stories like mine in California. Subject tests are an important means by which thousands of students can get their chance at a UC education. Let’s not take away a tool so many minority and immigrant students need to achieve their dream of a college education.