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University Communications

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Summer 2001
Putting the SAT to the Test
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DESPITE ATKINSON'S CALL to make the SAT I optional, the UC president says he staunchly supports standardized tests and believes it is important to have some sort of a baseline that balances out variations from one school to another. But, Atkinson explains, he prefers tests that measure achievement, or what is actually learned in the classroom, rather than those that try to measure an innate ability or aptitude. The SAT I is vague in what it measures, he says, and when a student does poorly on the test, parents, teachers and counselors have a hard time trying to tell the student what to work on to improve his or her score.

Along with making the SAT I optional, Atkinson is proposing that the University of California create its own set of tests that are correlated to California high school curricula. Until those tests are developed, he recommends that the UC continue to require three SAT II Subject Tests, which measure students' skills in math, writing and a subject of their choice like biology or American history. In addition, he proposes that all UC campuses move away from admission processes that use "narrowly defined quantitative formulas, and instead adopt procedures that look at applicants in a comprehensive, holistic way."

This recommendation, Atkinson says, is aimed at creating a fairer basis on which to make admission decisions and to "help ensure that standardized tests do not have an undue influence, but rather are used to illuminate the student's total record."

That, in fact, already is the approach at UCLA, where the SAT I is just one of many tools used by admissions officers as they sort through the tens of thousands of applications received each year. Fourteen years ago the campus developed a holistic process for admitting students -- one that in addition to grades and test scores looks at such issues as the classes available in a student's high school, awards and honors received, extracurricular activities, social and economic conditions in the home and whether the applicant might be a first-generation college student. UC Berkeley adopted a similar approach four years ago.

Within that comprehensive mix, the SAT I is a helpful tool, asserts Rae Lee Siporin M.A. '64, Ph.D. '68, who for 22 years until her retirement in April was UCLA's director of admissions and the architect of the university's holistic admissions guidelines. When she first came to campus, UCLA received an average of 12,000 applications and admitted about 80 percent. Today, that number has more than tripled (a record 40,700 applications were received for the 2001-'02 freshman class), and about 27 percent are admitted, "so every bit of information we can get is useful," she says. "In some ways, the SAT I has become more important. As we have had to get more and more selective, everything has become more important."

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