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Filipino Americans tell U. of California to stop using ACT & SAT tests for admission

Asian and Asian American students make up 36% of the student body at the University of California at Berkeley

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Filipino Americans have joined several groups recommending that the University of California drop the use of standardized tests long used to evaluate applicants to California colleges.

Lawyers representing Stockton-based Little Manila Rising, three individual students, the Compton Unified School District, civil-rights groups, and college-access organizations said on Tuesday that they planned to sue the University of California unless it drops its ACT/SAT requirement.

In a letter to the UC Regents, attorneys allege that the testing requirement violates state civil-rights laws. They describe their clients as well-qualified students who as a result of the requirement “have been subject to unlawful discrimination on the basis of race, disability, and wealth.”

“Historically, the SAT is a derivative of IQ tests that come out of a tradition of eugenics designed to destabilize communities of color,” said Lisa Holder, Counsel at the Equal Justice Society. “Accordingly, the SAT has built-in biases that ultimately derail the college aspirations of thousands of hardworking students of color. The test serves no purpose other than to act as a barrier to access for historically disadvantaged students. The U.C. Regents have a duty to end this discriminatory practice.”

The letter that was sent is a legal step that usually is a precursor to a lawsuit.

“Little Manila Rising believes that eliminating the SAT and ACT will help Filipino/a students access higher education and gain tools to achieve personal success and deepen their understanding of their own history,” the education and cultural advocates said in a statement. “We also choose to stand in solidarity and allyship with other marginalized communities who are affected by this discriminatory practice.”

The potential lawsuit apparently would be the first to take direct aim at a college’s ACT/SAT requirement. Test scores are among the 14 factors the university considers in its evaluations of applicants. This legal curve ball comes as the influential university system is once again scrutinizing its reliance on college-entrance exams. Recently, members of UC’s Academic Senate began a study to determine whether the ACT and SAT are useful measures of academic performance. 

Due to the discriminatory nature of the exams, the SAT and ACT tests have resulted in starkly disparate student outcomes. According to College Board’s 2018 data for students taking the SAT in California, 44% of White students scored 1200 or above, compared to only 10% of Black students and 12% of Latinx students.

Although Asian students have the highest scores when grouped together by the College Board, such a grouping masks the demographic diversity of Asian American and Pacific Islander populations and obscures the fact that certain subgroups score much lower than average.

“We’ve seen firsthand how SAT and ACT scores act as a discriminatory barrier to college access for students from historically disenfranchised communities through our college prep programs,” said Dillon Delvo, Executive Director of Little Manila Rising, one of the organizational plaintiffs in the case. “Eliminating these discriminatory practices will help Filipino/a students and students from other marginalized communities access higher education and achieve personal success.”

“Filipinos have the lowest UC admission rates out of all major Asian groups – 54% of applicants, compared to 70% Chinese, 73% Taiwanese, 69% Korean, 67% Vietnamese, 66% Indian, and 64% Japanese. Let’s unpack that! two-thirds to three-quarters of other groups are admitted but only one-half of Filipinos are,” said Kevin Nadal, PhD. The Filipino American professor at City University of New York compiled the data supporting his conclusion:

At some campuses of the nine-campus system, the admission rate for Filipinos and Filipino Americans is even worse. At the highly competitive campus of UC Berkeley, only 12% of the Filipino applicants were admitted. Only Hmong applicants with a 10% admittance rate had a lower students admitted.

The Academic Senate’s forthcoming recommendations, expected next year, could have far-reaching implications for the testing industry. After all, the mammoth university system is the SAT biggest’s customer; if it stopped requiring the test, many other institutions might follow suit. And then the ground beneath the feet of legions of college applicants could shift.

In their demand letter, lawyers for the potential plaintiffs distinguished between the university’s internal study and a potential lawsuit: “This is not a discretionary policy decision; it is a legal obligation, and it is urgent.”

The letter alleges that requiring admission exams discriminates against underrepresented minority students, multilingual learners, and students with disabilities. Moreover, the letter contends, that discrimination is exacerbated by unequal access to test preparation.

“The admissions process must take place on a level playing field … that rejects privilege and wealth as decisive factors,” Mark Rosenbaum, a lawyer for Public Counsel, a pro bono law firm based in Los Angeles, said during a teleconference on Tuesday. The university’s testing requirement “creates unlawful barriers for talented and qualified students with less wealth.”

In a written response, Zachary Goldberg, a spokesman for the College Board, said that the letter contained several incorrect assertions: “The notion that the SAT is discriminatory is false,” he said. “Any objective measure of student achievement will shine a light on inequalities in our education system.

“Our focus, with our members and partners, is combating these longstanding inequalities,” he continued. “More than 140 school districts and county offices of education across California, including some of the largest and most diverse districts in the state, support using the redesigned SAT as part of their efforts to improve college readiness and break down barriers to college.”

If California schools were to drop the use of the ACT and SAT, it would encourage other states to follow suit since California has the highest number of students who take those flawed tests.

UC’s Academic Senate is currently considering its use of the SAT and ACT in admissions decisions and may offer a recommendation to the Regents early next year. 

“We don’t need to wait for yet another study to prove that the SAT and ACT are meaningless and unjust,” said Gregory Ellis of Scheper Kim & Harris, co-counsel on the case. “This is urgent. Right now, students are being asked to take a test that has no real value, but will determine their futures. These students have no time to lose.”

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