Rohini Mettu got a perfect score on the ACT standardized test. The 20-year-old University of Washington student worked hard for that outcome, spending countless hours in expensive test-prep classes and countless more studying on her own. But Mettu, a rising junior, doubts her ACT performance was the make-or-break factor that landed her at the competitive university. Her essays, which she wrote with the help of a private tutor, were strong, too.
Test scores — which some view as one of the most objective barometers of merit — play an especially prominent role in admissions at schools that don’t practice affirmative action. Such schools include University of California (UC) institutions, which in May unanimously moved to stop requiring the SAT and ACT in admissions on the grounds that the tests are, to borrow one regent’s words, “a proxy for privilege.”
Nine states, including California and Washington, bar public colleges and universities from considering race in admissions. The UC system enrolls disproportionate numbers of both East and South Asian students — collectively, they accounted for a third of UC’s undergraduates last fall. More than half — 55% — of Asian students nationally scored a 1200 or higher (out of 1600 total) on the SAT last year, according to the College Board. The same was true for 45%, 12%, and 9% of their white, Latino, and Black counterparts, respectively.
A superficial interpretation of the data would indicate that race-conscious, test-optional policies benefit underrepresented students of color at the expense of their Asian American peers.
But Asian Americans are increasingly on board to eliminate test-based practices that endanger admissions for those who can least afford to pay for test prep — which can cost thousands.