It’s not the test

Mexican-American students with mediocre grades and below-average SAT scores can make it to the University of California by acing the Spanish SAT II exam. Low-scoring blacks have no such test to even the odds. But UC is changing the way it weights various tests, which will remove some of the advantage. I was struck by this in the Los Anglees Times story:

At Locke High School, 62% of the students are Latino, nearly all the rest are black, and standardized test scores are among the worst in the state — except on the Spanish exam. Changing the eligibility formula could increase the difficulty of sending such students to UC campuses.

“Our kids are horrible test takers,” said John Mandell, college counselor at Locke. But on these exams, “they do well.” He encourages native Spanish speakers to seize the advantage by taking one of the two Spanish exams offered.

The kids aren’t horrible test-takers when they know the subject matter. Last year, only one Locke senior broke 1,000 — the median score — on the SAT I, but several earned perfect 800s on the Spanish SAT II and more scored in the 700s.

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  1. As irritating as it is to see administrators telling kids to work the system and get into a university that they’re almost certainly not prepared for, this actually makes me feel depressed more than anything.

    Why? Because even being fluent in the language, a 7-800 on the Spanish SAT is darn good, and thanks to our wonderful educational system, these kids are lucky to get 7-800 cumulative score on the regular SAT.

    Oh, and the counselor should be fired for having such a bad attitude and publicly expressing it. Geesh.

  2. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Spanish test scores should get you into a Mexican university.

  3. PJ/Maryland says:

    You have to wonder if anyone in the UC system was paying attention when they instituted this scoring system. The SAT IIs count double the SAT I? So if someone managed the feat of getting 800 on both parts of the SAT I and all three SAT II tests, s/he’d have 6400 points, of which 25% would come from the perfect score in the SAT I?

    Actually, this may have less impact than the article suggests. My recollection is that most schools require students to take the English and Math SAT IIs, and the third can be whatever the student chooses. So a really good Spanish score often will be partially offset by a low English SAT II score in the case of many Latinos.

    I guess it really comes down to whether the SAT I is a good predictor of college performance. This article strictly deals with admissions, and doesn’t even consider dropout rates from UC.

    I have to wonder about someone (Guadalupe Reyes) “with a 3.38 GPA. But on the SAT I, she scored 840”. Maybe she’s a very hard worker, and doesn’t test well. Or maybe the SAT I is worthless. But, as Joanne noted, her scoring a 750 on the Spanish SAT II suggests that her test-taking skills are not at issue. Most likely, then, Locke has a grade inflation problem, and their students are graduating unprepared for college, despite their boast of being “where each and every one of our students is expected to go to college.”

  4. Questioneer says:

    If we are expected to live and work in the same environment, why WOULDN’T we take the same tests?

  5. Something I think many of you are neglecting…

    The level of vocabulary and reading comprehension tested on the Spanish SAT II test is MUCH lower than the level tested in the SAT I “Verbal” or SAT II English…

    The SAT II Spanish test was developed to test the skills of non-native speakers… The test is NOT a Spanish version of the SAT II English…

  6. A native Spanish speaker takes the SAT II on the subject of Spanish language and grammar, gets a high score (750 out of 800), and is admitted to UC on that basis, even though she scored only 840 out of 1600 on the SAT I?
    How about this hypothetical? Another high school senior takes the SAT II in Introductory Algebra (no such test exists), scores 750, and is admitted to UC on that basis, even though she, too, scored only 840 on the SAT I?
    Is either of these students prepared for UC?

  7. Oh, let me clarify…

    I definitely think its unfair… there should be some sort of rule about this, although I don’t know how you would enforce it…

    The reason I brought up the issue that the Spanish SAT II test doesn’t test the same level of vocab and reading comprehension as the SAT II English or SAT I “Verbal” is because some people are extrapolating, and saying, gee this is proof that these kids are great test-takers and should be scoring sky high on the SAT I test as well…

  8. PJ – I posted a recent UC document which showed that the SAT II score predicted first-year GPA better than the SAT I – but nothing in the document supported the doubling of the SAT II weight (and the document does not examine the individual SAT II exams).

    Joanne beat me to this story, but what I lack in speed, I make up for with logorrhea. 🙂

  9. Insufficiently Sensitive says:

    How is it that the oh-so-caring folks who want to fill university seats with illiterate or innumerate placeholders haven’t caught onto this dodge? To wit: contrive another SAT II measuring proficiency in electronic game playing and other street-level skills. There would hardly be any low scores, and the SAT would cease to be the big bad boojums preventing worthy contenders from entry into the big country club.

  10. My campus of aprox. 9,500 college students has *30 sections* (individual classes) of remedial Math and English for the Spring 2004 semester. They are about 50% filled already. I’m begining to think colleges want kids to do poorly in high school.
    30 sections x 45 studnets x tuition = $$$$$

  11. I can spell. I just can’t type.

  12. PJ/Maryland says:


    Thanks for the link to the UC SAT study. I’ve downloaded the PDF, but have only looked at the conclusions so far.

    I do wonder about a couple of aspects of the study. Is freshman GPA a good proxy for “successful college career”? I’d really rather see graduation rates, but perhaps that data is not available. (All else being equal, you’d expect achievement tests to closely track freshman GPA, but they may be less predictive in later years.)

    Also, I wonder if this study is applicable nationwide, given that that UC students are mostly Californians, and (as I understand it) California high schools use approximately similar curricula.

  13. Of course they do, Meezer. If they didn’t want those sections filled (sections largely taught by underpaid and exploited adjunct faculty), they wouldn’t accept these students. If they didn’t accept these students, the students would have some sort of motivation to learn something in high school. Since high school students know they’ll pretty much get into college no matter what they do in high school, there isn’t a lot of motivation to work hard — except for the small percentage of students who want to go to a competitive school. It’s a lovely circle.

  14. And does anyone actually learn enough to come up with any worthwhile new ideas? Duh.