The rationale comes down to one thing: Black and Latino students score lower than white and Asian students. The average SAT score in math for blacks is 428, for Latinos 457. Whites reach 534 and Asians 598—a sobering difference. When we look at the elite end of the scoring (750-800), 60 percent of the pool are Asians, 33 percent are whites, 5 percent Latinos, and 2 percent black (these are numbers from the 2017 study linked above).
There’s the problem, loud and clear. UC Berkeley and UCLA draw from the very top high school students. If test scores are part of the application, it is impossible to create a suitably diverse Class of 2025.
Kill the messenger—that’s the answer. It’s so simple, so easy. It spares college leaders from addressing the deeper, more complex causes of poor performance (as picked up by the tests). They don’t have to go back to scores on the NAEP exams in math in 4th grade and 8th grade, which show similar achievement gaps. And they don’t have to correlate low achievement with single-parent households (which are much more common among minorities than whites).
They don’t even have to make credible arguments. The mere fact of a gap is proof of the tests’ immorality. We have reached the point where the bare existence of disparate outcomes demonstrates an injustice at work. We don’t have to identify the specific source of the problem, just call it “systemic.” From there, we adjust or expel select elements of the system, such as the tests.
A college president may preach the virtues of inclusion with all the earnestness in the world, while at the same time trying to make his college ever more selective—that is, turning away increasing numbers of applicants. Woke means the end of discussion, analysis, investigation, and debate. Let the liberal call for more “dialogue,” and let the conservative appeal to tradition. The leftist knows the future is now, no more dithering, drop the tests.
Too many college leaders are wholly willing to go along. They have shown themselves to be perfectly ready to compromise principles of excellence and merit and peer review, which they have heretofore upheld with heads high. They’ve known ever since Fall 2014 when the upheavals began at the University of Missouri that a president can lose his job if he displays an insufficiently woke attitude. These are careerists, ambitious and calculating; they know that the woke brigades are a material threat, the defenders of objectivity and color blindness a bunch of pussycats.
So, what’s going to happen without an ACT or SAT requirement?
Well, for the schools, it means the portion of minority students in the entering classes will increase. That’s the basic advantage. Many college officials look no farther than that. That’s a mistake, however, at least at highly selective institutions. For the loss of the tests will only exacerbate the mismatch problem, which is this: Students admitted to top schools thanks to lowered hurdles may be smart, diligent, and ambitious, but they’ve landed among students who are super smart, nonstop diligent, and hyper-ambitious.
The minority student who falls into the 87th percentile on the SAT math test has reason to have confidence in his abilities. He’s been a star through high school and been recruited aggressively by tier one schools. But now, as a pre-med freshman, he’s in Physics 101 with 62 kids who fell into the 96th percentile on the SAT math spectrum. (Note: The course is majority Asian, not majority white.) Suddenly, early in his college career, he’s at the bottom of the class, because the course is graded on a curve. He is mismatched with his peers, trying to compete well above his weight class. He knows that med school admissions are even tougher than undergrad admissions, and he knows his beginning grades are crucial, but he’s outgunned. Medical schools use those early courses as a filtering process, and he doesn’t make the cut. If that 87th-percentile student were in a less selective institution, he would survive the process. But at Stanford or Princeton, he struggles and sinks.
The outcome is predictable. It often leaves him embarrassed, bitter, angry, ready to march on the president’s office. With the removal of the test, more such cases of mismatch will arise, more allegations of systemic bigotry. College leaders who believe that eliminating the SAT and ACT scores will improve race relations are blind. Five years from now, let’s look again at the UC system and assess the result. Tensions will likely be worse, as has so often happened with progressive reforms, and officials will scramble and fumble for another answer, a fresh tactic. And at the back of their minds will be a terrible dread that tomorrow’s demand may be: “You must resign!”
Mark Bauerlein is contributing editor of First Things.
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