Monday, May 07, 2007

UCLA: There is a significant gap between the SAT scores and high school GPAs of African-American and Latino students compared to whites and Asians

Julia Erlandson:

When UCLA announced its decision last year to adopt a holistic admissions process, some expressed hope that the new system would help increase the number of underrepresented minorities admitted to the university.

Officials said at the time that holistic review was intended to make admissions more fair by placing more emphasis on students’ personal qualities and achievements.

And while the number of underrepresented minorities admitted did increase overall, there is still a significant gap between the SAT scores and high school GPAs of black and Latino students compared to white and Asian students.

The persisting gap left some questioning whether the switch to holistic review had really improved UCLA’s admissions process.

In fall 2006, before UCLA switched to holistic admissions, black and Latino applicants’ average SAT scores were 255 and 246 points lower than the average for their white and Asian counterparts.

That gap seemed largely unaffected by holistic review – in fall 2007, black applicants’ SAT scores were on average 293 points lower than those of white and Asian students, and Latino applicants’ scores came up 249 points short.

Applicants’ GPAs told a similar story. In both fall 2006 and fall 2007, black students’ GPAs were about two-10ths of a point lower than white and Asian students’, and Latino students’ were about one-10th lower.

Ward Connerly, a former UC regent who sponsored anti-affirmative action legislation in several states, said he believes these disparities reflect a lack of fairness in UCLA’s admissions process.

“UCLA said it would revise (its admissions standards) to take non-academic factors into account, ... but the data that I looked at suggested that they were looking at non-academic factors primarily for black students,” Connerly said.

“It seems to me that there is something going on ... that is allowing admissions people to weight non-academic factors to such an extent in favor of black students.”

Ana-Christina Ramon, research coordinator of UCLA’s Ralph J. Bunche Center for African American Studies, which has conducted studies on the university’s admissions, said in order to understand the effect of holistic review, it is necessary to look at applicants in the context of their schools and communities.

UCLA’s old admissions system relied heavily on GPAs, so students from less affluent communities who did not have access to many Advanced Placement courses were unable to attain the same high GPAs as their counterparts from more privileged areas, Ramon said.

“Now, students are considered more in the context of the communities they come from,” she added. “That helps, then, in terms of looking at students; ... did you get a 3.9 because your school only has one AP course?”

And admit rates for minority students from lower-performing high schools did increase after the implementation of holistic admissions.

High schools in California are rated according to the Academic Performance Index, a 10-point scale with higher scores awarded to higher-performing schools.

From fall 2006 to fall 2007, the admit rate for black students coming from high schools with API scores of 1 or 2 jumped from 12 percent to 27 percent.

The rate for Latino applicants from these schools rose from 25 to 27 percent in the same time frame.

Ramon said these figures are testaments to the success of holistic review.

“That’s a sign of how the holistic admissions is working,” she said. “You have to really take into account all these other (non-academic) factors ... so that your students have a true college experience ... where they’re learning from each other.”

But at the same time, the admit rates for white and Asian students from low-performing high schools fell.

In fall 2006, 35 percent of Asian students and 41 percent of white students from California high schools with API scores of 1 or 2 were admitted to UCLA.

In fall 2007, those numbers dropped to 31 percent and 33 percent, respectively.

Connerly said he was not surprised by the latest admissions figures.

“I’ve had my suspicions that UCLA was going to try and find a proxy for race to get the pressure off their backs,” he said. “As you look at the underperforming schools in California, ... Asian kids are going to those schools to almost the same extent as black kids are.”

But D’Artagnan Scorza, access coordinator for the African Student Union, said he does not believe holistic review means underrepresented minorities are being held to lower standards.

“It’s how we look at merit. Should someone be allowed in the university because of GPA and SAT scores? Yes. Should someone be allowed in the university based on the context of their environment? I say also, ‘yes,’” Scorza said.

Ramon said it will likely take several years to adequately assess the effect and success of holistic review.

In any case, Ramon said she was not sure holistic admissions alone would be able to close the SAT and GPA gap between underrepresented minorities and white and Asian students.

“Changes in the entire school system would have to be made. ... There are a lot of inequities in the K-12 system,” she said.

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