BERKELEY, Calif. -- The president of the University of California has recommended dropping the main SAT as an admission requirement at its eight campuses, saying the test is an unfair measurement of students' abilities.
The development could affect the way high school students in California and across the nation prepare for college. The University of California system is one of the nation's largest, with 170,000 students.
Richard C. Atkinson was to announce his recommendation in a speech to the American Council on Education in Washington, D.C., on Sunday.
"Anyone involved in education should be concerned about how overemphasis on the SAT is distorting educational priorities and practices, how the test is perceived by many as unfair, and how it can have a devastating impact on the self esteem and aspirations of young students," Atkinson says in a draft copy of the speech.
Atkinson has asked UC's Academic Senate, which sets admission standards, to consider dropping the SAT I -- which includes a verbal and math test -- and take a more comprehensive look at applicants. The university would continue to use the SAT II, a three-part test more closely tied to subjects studied in high school.
The Educational Testing Service says 2.4 million students took the SAT I in 1998-99, while 442,000 took the SAT II.
The proposal would require approval by the UC Board of Regents and could not take effect before fall 2003.
Atkinson's proposal to drop the SAT, taken by more than a million graduating seniors last year, drew strong reaction.
"To drop the SAT would be like deciding you're going to drop grades," said Gaston Caperton, president of the nonprofit College Board, which owns the SAT.
Critics say high school grades are a better indicator of a student's ability than an SAT score. Others say the SAT is crucial to provide a national yardstick -- all A's, for instance, are not created equal.
A Massachusetts group that argues a high SAT score may have more to do with money spent on pre-testing coaching than ability said the proposal is a step in the right direction.
"There will be strong pressure on other state college systems to follow California's lead," said Robert Schaeffer of FairTest, which advocates less emphasis on standardized test.
One of the criticisms leveled against the SAT is that it is culturally biased and unfair to disadvantaged students. Admissions diversity has been an issue at UC since 1995, when regents voted to drop affirmative action. Numbers of black and Hispanic students have fallen at top campuses since then.
Caperton defended the SAT as "extremely fair. What is not fair is the education system in America which gives children unequal opportunities."
But Atkinson said an overemphasis on SAT I scores has created the "educational equivalent of a nuclear arms race," that hurts all involved but poses a risk to any institution that opts out.
Jeff Rubenstein, assistant vice president of the Princeton Review and author of several books about test preparation, said Atkinson's announcement may prove a rallying point.
"People are finally beginning to realize the incredibly narrow scope of what this test measures which is completely out of proportion with the importance given to it by most people," he said.
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