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Advocates File Suit Against University of California for Discriminatory Use of Sat/Act In Admissions

Kawika Smith, a senior at Verbum Dei High School in Los Angeles, stands with Public Counsel paralegal, Jessica Gomez, after participating in a press conference to announce that a demand letter was sent to the UC Board of Regents.

December 10, 2019

Students, community groups, school district file suit against UC Board of Regents for use of SAT/ACT for admissions– cite practice as meaningless barrier to higher education for underrepresented minority students and students with disabilities.

Read the complaint here. 

Today, lawyers representing four students, six nonprofits and the Compton Unified School District announced lawsuits against the University of California Board of Regents for the UC system’s use of SAT and ACT test scores in admissions decisions. The civil rights lawsuits allege that the UC System is knowingly creating barriers to higher education for students of color and students with disabilities.

Earlier this fall, Governor Newsom acknowledged that the use of the SAT and ACT “exacerbates the inequities for underrepresented students, given that performance on these tests is highly correlated with race and parental income, and is not the best predictor for college success.” In November, UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ similarly called for the University to drop its test score requirement because SAT and ACT scores “really contribute to the inequities of our system.” The UC has long been aware that the scores are meaningless and that they have a discriminatory effect, but it has continued to require them of prospective applicants.   

“Today’s legal action finally changes the conversation from a policy one to a legal one,” said Mark Rosenbaum, Directing Attorney at Public Counsel, a nonprofit law firm. “Use of the SAT/ACT is not merely bad policy; it violates the California Constitution and anti-discrimination statutes, and is therefore legally and morally impermissible. Students should not have to endure the stress and expense of preparing for and taking the SAT, and the admissions process should no longer be contaminated by this discriminatory metric.”

Plaintiffs allege that basing college admissions decisions on SAT and ACT scores amounts to deciding students’ future based on their race and socioeconomic status and not on individual merit. They also point to disparities in access to effective test preparation classes and to bias in test design and test-taking conditions that discriminate against students on the basis of their wealth, race, and disability.

"Today's lawsuit against the University of California Board of Regents meticulously documents how the ACT/SAT test score requirement discriminates against low-income, historically disenfranchised minority, and disabled undergraduate applicants,” said Bob Schaeffer, Public Education Director at FairTest: National Center for Fair & Open Testing. “The complaint's data and arguments should persuade not only leaders of the University of California but their peers at many other institutions to eliminate reliance on biased and inaccurate standardized exams."

“The SAT has built-in biases that ultimately derail the college aspirations of thousands of hardworking students of color who would thrive in college and make important contributions to the UC community and beyond,” said Lisa Holder, Of Counsel at the Equal Justice Society. “The test serves no purpose other than to act as a barrier to higher education for historically disadvantaged students. The UC Regents have a duty to end this discriminatory practice."

The Academic Senate is currently considering its use of the SAT and ACT in admissions decisions, as it has done several times in the past two decades, and may offer a recommendation to the Regents next year. “The UC's own top brass and researchers acknowledge that the SAT and ACT are discriminatory, and do not meaningfully measure whether students will graduate,” said Gregory Ellis of Scheper Kim & Harris, co-counsel on the case. “We can’t wait for more 'recommendations' from the UC about the tests - it knows they are improper."

Read the full press release here.

Relevant Materials:

Key Research Studies:

Media Coverage:

Coverage of the Filing of the Demand Letter:

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