By Lance T. Izumi
In proposing to drop the SAT I from the University of California's admissions process, UC president Richard Atkinson implied that it is the SAT that blocks most black and Hispanic students from entering the UC system. However, the reality is that even if the SAT I were dropped tomorrow, the vast majority of black and Hispanic California high-school students would be no closer to entering the UC than before. That's because few black and Hispanic students take the college preparatory courses in high school that the UC requires for admission.
To be admitted into the UC system, high school students must take the so-called A-F core academic courses. These courses include specified classes in history, English, mathematics, laboratory science, foreign language, and advanced course/elective. The percentages of black and Hispanic students who complete the A-F course requirements are tragically low.
In its recent publication Student Profiles 2000, the California Postsecondary Education Commission reports that in 1998-99, the last year for which data are available, slightly more than a quarter of black high-school students, 26.3 percent, completed the A-F courses. The percentage of Hispanic students was even worse. In that same year, only 22.1 percent of Hispanic students completed the A-F courses. In other words, nearly three-quarters of black students and nearly eight out of 10 Hispanic students are, by definition, ineligible for admission into UC. A black or Hispanic student who scores a perfect 1600 on the SAT, but who doesn't complete the A-F courses, is not going to the UC.
What the UC should be focusing on, therefore, is increasing the pool of UC eligible students, including black and Hispanic students. That means, first of all, increasing the number of students taking A-F courses. Unlike the quick and false fix of dropping the SAT, increasing the number of students completing the A-F coursework will require years of work. Not only must more college preparatory courses be offered at more high schools, especially those in poor inner-city areas, but also in their K-8 classes minority and low-income students must receive the academic knowledge, skills, and tools necessary to handle the tough A-F curriculum. Empirical research shows that whole-language reading instruction, fuzzy new math, and the maddening array of progressive teaching methods, all of which have been popular among California educators, have done more to handicap low-income students than any standardized test.
Jack E. White, the noted liberal black columnist, opposes dropping the SAT, saying that if we want to increase black enrollment in higher education, "It's going to require, among other things, installing tougher classes, especially in math, sciences and literature, and making sure [black] kids take them; better teachers; changes in study habits; and above all else, a new burst of self confidence."
Nancy Ichinaga, principal at Bennet-Kew Elementary School in Inglewood, California and famed for producing high achievement among her low-income minority students, says that it is her no-nonsense phonics-based reading and computation-oriented math curriculum, plus the traditional instruction methods employed by her teachers, that have given her students the tools to succeed in the future.
Ensuring that more black and Hispanic students get that kind of learning and instruction will do more to ensure increased minority enrollment at UC than any politically correct tinkering with the SAT.
Lance T. Izumi is Director of the Center for School Reform for the Pacific Research Institute. The Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy promotes the principles of individual freedom and personal responsibility.