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Hispanics Ask Less Use of Tests for College Admissions

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The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, reflecting rising concerns that stricter college-admission requirements will limit minority students' access to higher education, this month filed a petition on behalf of 14 Hispanic groups denouncing the use of minimum cutoff scores and the "overemphasis" placed on test scores in the admissions process.

The maldef petition, presented to the American College Testing Program, the College Board, and the Educational Testing Service, contends that standardized tests are poor predictors of college performance for minority students and that many institutions rely too heavily on such examinations. The document urges the testing agencies to withhold test scores from colleges that allegedly rely too heavily on them; it also calls on the testing groups to strengthen their guidelines limiting reliance on test scores and to enforce those guidelines more aggressively.

As growing numbers of colleges and universities move to raise admission standards, cut expensive remedial programs, and limit enrollments, minority educators have expressed fears that the changes will lead to increased reliance on standardized tests, on which minority students generally perform less well than do whites. Some states that have moved to upgrade standards beginning in 1986 and 1987 are using minimum cutoff scores on standardized tests to "weed out" underprepared students from the applicant pool, minority educators claim, in violation of testing agencies' guidelines.

"Testing agencies are not merely service agencies for college admissions offices," said Joaquin Avila, president of maldef. "Standardized-test scores increasingly hold the key to higher education. By allowing schools to ignore guidelines for test use and thereby to exclude minorities, testing agencies condone discrimination in college admissions."

The institutions and testing agencies named in the document said they agreed that test scores should not be the sole criterion for college admission, but took issue with the other allegations.

Hispanic groups supporting the maldef petition include: the Arizona Association of Chicanos in Higher Education, Aspira of New York, the Center for Puerto Rican Studies, the Hispanic Higher Education Coalition, Hispanic Women in Higher Education, the Institute for Puerto Rican Policy, the Latino Institute, the League of United Latin American Citizens, the National Chicano Council on Higher Education, the National Council of La Raza, the Puerto Rican Legal Defense and Education Fund, Raza Administrators and Counselors in Higher Education, and the Texas Association of Chicanos in Higher Education.

Tests Poor Predictors

maldef bases much of its complaint on the assumption that standardized-test scores do not accurately measure student achievement and that the tests are particularly poor predictors of the college performance of Hispanic students.

The organization cited Hispanics, Education, and Background, 1983, a study by Richard Duran, a researcher who now works for ets, which states that "a majority of validity studies that have been conducted indicate that [standardized tests and grade-point averages] are not as valid or accurate in predicting college performance for Hispanics as they are for white students."

But David Crockett, vice president of public affairs at the American College Testing Program, said standardized tests are relatively accurate predictors for Hispanic students. He said a "predictive validity study" conducted by act in July 1981, based on data on 3,717 Chicano students at 172 institutions, indicated that 52 percent of Chicanos involved in the study were within 0.5 of the grade-point average predicted by the test score, compared with 57 percent of whites who fell within that range.

Cautioning that they have not had enough time to prepare detailed responses to the petition, officials of the three testing agencies said they strongly agree that standardized-test scores should not be the sole factor determining college admission--and asserted that they rarely are.

"We repeatedly tell colleges that the tests are designed to be used in conjunction with other indicators of student performance, such as the high-school transcript and grades and participation in extracurricular activities," said Leslie S. Nicholson, a spokesman for the College Board, which administers the Scholastic Aptitude test, the most widely used college-admission test.

"Our guidelines expressed in numerous publications inform colleges, students, and parents that if institutions are going to do a fair job of admitting students, they have to consider much more than sat scores," said Thomas Ewing, a communications officer with the Educational Testing Service.

A 1980 survey conducted jointly by the College Board and the American Association of Collegiate Registrars and Admissions Officers polled some 2,600 colleges and universities to determine the relative importance assigned to factors used in the admissions process, Mr. Ewing said.

Diverse Practices

Their report described diverse practices, concluding: "High-school academic performance is the only qualification that a significant percentage of any college category reported to be the single most important factor [for admitting students], and only 31 percent of all participating institutions joined in that judgment."

An additional 34 percent said high-school performance was "very important," according to the study, while 2 percent of institutions responding to the survey said that aptitude tests were the single most important factor; about 42 percent said the test scores were very important.

The survey "supports the presumption that colleges' admissions decisions are typically based on several kinds of information about their applicants and that no single piece of information alone dictates their decisions," the report said.

Gregory R. Anrig, president of ets, said that denying test scores to certain institutions, as requested by maldef, would be difficult, since test results are sent only at the request of the students.

According to Mr. Crockett, act test scores also belong to the students, who tell the testing agency where to send them, and not to the universities that receive the results.

He noted, however, that his organization has a responsibility to see that its information is "used properly." act guidelines "specifically state that test scores not be used as the sole criterion for admissions but in conjunction with other criteria," Mr. Crockett said.

maldef also singled out several universities and university systems, primarily in states with large Hispanic populations, that allegedly place too much emphasis on standardized tests. But officials at the colleges and universities cited deny that they discriminate against Hispanics, maintaining that they take pains to downplay the importance of standardized tests.

The University of California System in 1981 started to place far greater reliance on test scores, the maldef document says. It notes that students wishing to enter one of the system's nine undergraduate programs must now meet an eligibility index that combines test scores and high-school grade-point averages. Students with high-school averages of 3.0 on a 4.0-point scale, for example, must have combined sat scores of 1090 to gain admission.

In fact, University of California officials note that students with a 2.78 high-school average must receive "perfect scores" on the sat or act test to be admitted to a college in the university system.

Although this is essentially a cutoff, Melvin J. Gregory, assistant director of admissions at the University of California at Santa Barbara, pointed out that the eligibility index is often waived in the case of promising minority students.

There is a stipulation that admissions offices accept 6 percent of entering freshmen who do not meet university entrance requirements. Of that 6 percent, 60 percent--or 4 percent of the entering class--must be minority students, according to Mr. Gregory.

The eligibility index takes into consideration the rigor of courses taken and grade-point average, as well as test scores, Mr. Gregory said. Tests are only one of the three factors and not the most important one, he said.

Aptitude-test scores for California residents who take a rigorous high-school program and who receive grades that are higher than 3.3 are not considered in the admissions decision, he added.

Joseph V. Gallo, assistant dean of admissions at the University of Arizona, another institution cited by maldef, said the university offers three alternative admissions criteria, two of which are unrelated to test scores.

The university admits students if they rank in the upper half of their high-school class, or if they have a grade-point average of at least 2.5 on a 4-point scale, or if they have a combined sat score of 1010 or an act score of 23. (Arizona residents, Mr. Gallo said, need sat scores of 930 and act scores of 21.)

At the University of Texas at Austin, which was also cited by maldef, students eligible for admission must be either in the top quarter of their senior class or have a minimum combined sat score of 1100 or an act score of 27, according to an admissions counselor there.

The separate criteria "address the problem of students who are not good test-takers or for other reasons perform less well on tests," said Roberto Trevino-Martinez, assistant director of admissions.

"Minority students who attend minority-dominated schools have a good opportunity to finish in the top quarter of their graduating class. Those who attend schools with large white enrollments and do not finish in the top quartile can score more than 1100 on the sat," Mr. Trevino-Martinez said.

The university's minority enrollment has increased significantly, he said, since the new admissions requirement went into effect in 1982--including a 9.1-percent increase in the number of blacks enrolled, a 3.9-percent rise in the number of Hispanics, and a 2.1-percent increase in Asian Americans.

James B. Parrish, director of admissions at the University of Florida, said minimum admissions requirements for all nine institutions in the state-university system basically require that students graduate from high school with a specified number of academic units (which will total 16 units and include a foreign language by 1987) and that they receive a minimum combined test score of 840 on the sat or 17 on act

The testing requirement, Mr. Parrish said, can be waived by the institution if the applicant has a B or better high-school average.

Students who fail to be admitted can also petition the university for admission through a procedure that requires applicants with below-minimum test scores to show that the scores are "not representative of their ability to do successful college work at the institution," Mr. Parrish said.

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