Civil Rights Groups Criticize University Admissions Exams

University Testing

Three prominent civil rights groups recently released separate reports cautioning against over-reliance on exams such as the SAT and ACT in university admissions.


In “A Call for Action,” released November 2001, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) highlighted the negative impact that the SAT and ACT have on equity and access in college admissions: “Placing too great an emphasis on test scores clearly hurts minority and low-income students who do not perform as well as white students from more affluent schools or backgrounds; in addition to any biases inherent in the test, more affluent students also have the resources to afford test preparation services that provide greater advantages.” The NAACP report proposed several action steps for federal, state, and local educational agencies, such as supporting the use of university admissions policies that de-emphasize standardized tests and requiring test producers to publish the racial and ethnic breakdown of correct answers on individual test questions. The report also recommended continuing affirmative action programs and increasing recruitment of students of color through outreach and financial aid policies. (See story on NAACP report on K-12 education, p. 16).


Also in November, the Board of Directors of the National Action Council for Minorities in Engineering (NACME) called upon the nation’s engineering institutions to abandon their over-reliance on university admissions exams. A special resolution adopted by the NACME Board states that tests such as the SAT and ACT “have been shown to be particularly suspect when used to judge the potential of the disadvantaged, the underrepresented minority, and first-generation college-going students.” The resolution went on to cite the College Board’s own research showing the high correlation between SAT scores and parental income and education. Given that misuse of standardized tests “has benefited those already advantaged in the college admission process, while preserving the barriers to students from groups historically under-participating in higher education,” NACME urged colleges and universities to implement holistic admissions policies that look beyond standardized test scores in assessing student potential.


A poll of 200 executive leaders from Fortune 1000 businesses by the National Urban League revealed that corporate leaders place little value on standardized tests. Entitled “Spotting Talent and Potential in The Business World: Lessons From Corporate America For College Admissions,” the report detailed the skills and characteristics that lead to a high level of success as identified by business leaders nationwide. Significantly, only 4% of those polled cited standardized tests such as the SAT and ACT as “very important” to long-term corporate success. Almost two-thirds of the respondents said that university admissions exams should be given “much less weight” or “less weight.” Character, leadership, and communication skills ranked at the top among the traits that lead to business success.


Concurrently, a group of seven executives from major U.S. corporations that participated in the National Urban League poll sent a letter to 700 college and university presidents calling for de-emphasizing standardized tests within college admissions. Leaders of the Bank of America, Verizon Communications, Gillette, and Shell Oil, among others, stated, “Overemphasis on the SAT is harming American education” and “these tests are being asked to do far more than they should, and that young people are paying the consequences.” However, many of these same corporations have supported the expansion of testing in the public schools.


• “A Call for Action”:
• NACME resolution:
• Nation Urban League study: