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Summer 2001
Putting the SAT to the Test
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UCLA Chancellor Albert Carnesale, too, believes that in conjunction with the holistic approach to admissions there is value to the SAT I, particularly when it comes to spotting "high fliers" -- students who do very well on the test but whose grades don't reflect equal success in the classroom. Since Atkinson's plan would still allow students the option of submitting their SAT I scores, Carnesale says, "I'd be willing to bet that those students who have very high SAT I scores would continue to send them as part of their applications to the University of California."

Because of UCLA's comprehensive admissions process, Carnesale does not believe that making the SAT I optional would diminish UCLA's academic standards -- one of the key concerns of critics who fear that eliminating the requirement would lower standards.

GASTON CAPERTON, the former governor of West Virginia who now is president of the College Board, says he agrees with Atkinson that more colleges and universities should take a holistic approach to their admissions process. And he adds that the SAT was never designed to be the primary factor in admissions decisions. But he disagrees with Atkinson's view that the test is vague about what it measures, and says it is "the only common yardstick" to use across all applicants.

He suggests there are larger issues that Atkinson and other education administrators should be considering.

"If you drop the SAT, is it going to bring in better teachers or principals?" Caperton asks. "Is it going to change the fact that in 1966 California was sixth in the nation in educational spending and today it's 40th? Is it going to change the fact that 23 percent of students in California have poor English skills?

"We have an unequal education system in this country," Caperton continues. "That's what we should be attacking. This argument about the SAT is the wrong argument. If every kid in America had the same opportunity, we wouldn't have this problem."

In that regard, Caperton and Atkinson are not that far apart. Atkinson says he wants more than just a replacement test for the SAT I; in developing that test, he wants the university's faculty to determine what is essential for students to know upon entering the UC and to then, leveraging the UC's position as the state's preeminent university system, encourage local school districts to teach that information. In the long term, Atkinson says, his plan should help improve teaching statewide beginning in elementary schools, thereby leveling the playing field for all students.

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