UC Davis eyes effects of dropping SAT I

UC Davis would have admitted a more diverse fall 2001 freshman class if the SAT I was not part of the academic index used to select most of its students, according to a recent faculty study.

The simulation was developed by associate linguistics professor Patrick Farrell for the campus Academic Senate Admissions and Enrollment Committee. Farrell, the chair of the group, said he created the model to help the committee better understand the effect of eliminating the aptitude test.

In February, University of California President Richard Atkinson recommended that the UC system drop the SAT I as an admissions requirement and take a broader view of students' achievements. Farrell is a member of the UC-wide Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools, the first committee under the UC Academic Council that will weigh in on Atkinson's proposal.

In his study, Farrell looked at students admitted under the university's Tier I criteria. The standard allows 60 percent of incoming freshmen to be admitted to UC Davis based on a combination of their high school grade- point average and SAT I and subject-based SAT II scores.

For example, Farrell found African American, Hispanic and Native American students - considered underrepresented minorities at UC Davis - made up 11.3 percent of the top one-third of all applicants ranked by GPA, but only 5.2 percent of the the top one-third of applicants ordered by their SAT I math scores. He concluded that more minority students would have been admitted to UC Davis if an academic index that didn't include the SAT I was used.

Based on his findings, Farrell said he agreed with Atkinson's recommendation. But he also recognizes how complex the SAT issue can be. "It would be folly for UC Davis, on our own, to either ignore them or devalue them, given that the average SAT I exams scores of entering classes have been critical to the public's perception of the stature of a campus," Farrell said.

Campus forums planned

Farrell may get to offer his official input on the topic, but the entire UC Davis campus will also soon get a chance to personally consider the SAT I issue. On Thursday, College Board President Gaston Caperton will visit UC Davis to talk about role of the SAT I in university admissions. His visit is part of the Scholastic Assessment Test lecture series sponsored by Institute of Governmental Affairs.

Later this spring, the institute hopes to host Robert Linn, a University of Colorado professor of education. A talk scheduled for May 16 had to be postponed after Linn's schedule changed, according to institute director Alan Olmstead. If he is able to reschedule a trip to UC Davis, Linn, an expert on what standardized tests measure, will discuss alternatives to the SAT I.

After Atkinson announced his recommendation, a number of UC Davis professors asked Olmstead to help educate the campus about the issue. "All the campuses and a number of committees will be charged with making recommendations on this," he said. "We thought we ought to have an open debate with all sides reflected."

During his 3 p.m. talk at the Buehler Alumni and Visitors Center, Caperton will speak for an hour about the role of the SAT I within a holistic view of admissions criteria, said Chiara Coletti, a spokeswoman for the College Board. Caperton will be accompanied by board Vice President Wayne Camara, who studies testing measures. The two will also take audience questions.

Caperton believes SAT I scores should be included in the range of educational and personal factors colleges use when deciding to admit students, Coletti said. "He believes students should have more rather than fewer chances to show their talents."

Caperton describes the SAT I as a fair test that gives students who haven't gone to the best schools the opportunity to shine.

Disagreement expected

One person who will be listening closely to Caperton's message is Gary Tudor, UC Davis' director of undergraduate admissions.

"I'll be listening for something new he has to say," Tudor said. "It's clear he doesn't agree with Atkinson."

Change would impact workload

Currently, the university's admissions staff and certain deans and faculty on campus only read the applications of the 40 percent of UC Davis applicants who did not score as high in Academic Index standards. For those students, readers look at criteria such as students' personal accomplishments, their parents' education and the Eligibility in Local Context program, which compares students to others at their high school.

"If you substitute one (academic index) test for another, that doesn't really change the way I do admissions," Tudor said.

But if UC calls for campus admissions offices to read all applications, UC Davis will have significantly more work on its hands. Tudor then envisions having more readers outside Undergraduate Admissions looking over student applications. Ultimately, he will look to UC faculty for direction.

"I'm sure (Academic Council) will find the best combination of getting good students and keeping sanity in our work."

The UC Davis Committee on Admissions and Enrollment will discuss Atkinson proposal at its meeting in early May, Farrell said. He'll bring the thoughts of the UC Davis group to future UC admissions board discussions.

After UC committees discuss the SAT I proposal, the issue will then go to the Academic Council before ultimately being handed to the UC regents. The process is expected to take about a year, said UC spokeswoman Abby Lunardini.

Media Resources

Amy Agronis, Dateline, (530) 752-1932, abagronis@ucdavis.edu

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