Dec. 11 (UPI) -- A group of students, educators and advocates filed a lawsuit Tuesday against the University of California to stop the institution from requiring applicants from submitting standardized test scores it calls discriminatory as part of its admissions process.
The 105-page lawsuit, filed in the Alameda County by Public Counsel, Scheper Kim & Harris LLP and others on behalf of the plaintiffs, claims the SAT and ACT tests are "demonstrably discriminatory against the state's least privileged students," specifically minority and low-income applicants, and that the university's use of the tests in its admissions process constitutes illegal discrimination and violates the Equal Protection Clause of the California Constitution.
The importance of the standardized tests in the admissions process has spawned a test-preparation industry of tutors and cram schools that gives applicants from more affluent families a competitive advantage over poorer students, the lawyers argue.
"The UC admissions process ... creates formidable barriers to access to public higher education for deserving students from low-income families, students from historically underrepresented racial and ethnic groups and students with disabilities," the lawsuit said. "The requirement that all applicants submit SAT or ACT scores systematically and unlawfully denies talented and qualified students with less accumulated advantage a fair opportunity to pursue higher education."
Mark Rosenbaum, an attorney with Public Counsel, said these standardized tests damage the futures of tens of thousands of students a year.
"The UC system has no more constitutionally sacred obligation than to ensure equal access to all of California's young persons, to serve as a beacon of hope and opportunity," he said in a statement published on Public Counsel's Instagram account. "By its reliance on the SAT and ACT, the UC system subverts its mission and makes its campuses havens for concentrated privilege."
Lead plaintiff Kawika Smith, a black 17-year-old high school student, is a rape survivor and a murder witness who has suffered from house and food insecurity for much of his life. According to the lawsuit, these experiences put him at a disadvantage to perform well on the SAT and his current score makes it unlikely he will gain admission to any UC campus, despite being an active student advocate and organizer in South Los Angeles.
In a statement, Smith said the SAT does not take into consideration any of his life experiences and though he is scheduled to take the test again in December, he expects he will be attending a school out of state that does not require the "flawed" SAT.
"Standardized test like the SAT reminds me that racism and classism have only become more sophisticated," he said. "Instead of straight-out saying people of color and underprivileged people aren't allowed, a test is in place to illegitimately justify why such groups of people are not suitable for the UC system."
The lawsuit follows a letter sent to UC officials in October from Public Counsel, Scheper Kim & Harris and others demanding the university instruct all admissions officers to stop requiring the standardized tests scores or they'd take it to court.
College Board, which operates the SAT, rebuked the accusations as "false," stating it works to "shine a light on inequalities" in education.
"Regrettably, the letter and the lawsuit contain a number of false assertions and is counterproductive to the fact-based, data-driven discussion that students, parents and educators deserve," College Board spokesman Zachary Goldberg said in a statement.