Life after Hopwood: Texas Officials Say That Maybe Those Standardized Tests Aren't So Important after All

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Life After Hopwood: Texas Officials Say That Maybe Those Standardized. Tests Aren't So Important After All

EL PASO, TX -- Hopwood -- the case that has thrown affirmative action programs into a tailspin -- may be a "blessing in disguise," according to University of Texas at El Paso president Diana Natalicio.

That is because it has triggered what she calls a long-overdue review of the use of standardized testing in college admissions.

In Hopwood v. State of Texas, the 5th U.S. Circuit Court ruled that race could not be used as a factor in deciding whether to admit a student. Hopwood concerned four white students who had been denied access to the University of Texas law school despite the fact that their "Texas Index" scores -- a combination of standardized test scores and grade point averages -- were a few points higher than Mexican-American students who had been admitted. Currently, 28 percent of UT's 48,000 students are minorities.

Last month the Supreme Court said it would not review the circuit court's ruling. In an explanation of its decision, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said that the admissions process at the law school was a moot point since it had been changed before the court case was brought.

However, that leaves Hopwood as the binding case law in the states that make up the 5th circuit -- Texas, Mississippi and Louisiana. Other states have already begun to bring their affirmative action policies into line as well, even though the ruling does not officially affect them.

Speaking in El Paso before a joint meeting of the UT System Alliance for Minority Participation Academic Leadership Council and Evaluation Task Force, Natalicio said that Hopwood forces universities to reexamine their reliance on standardized tests.

"I've had serious concerns about our [the academic world] blind acceptance of standardized tests," she said afterwards.

For the fall of 1997, UT has altered its policies regarding standardized tests. It will no longer automatically admit students based on their scores.

UT Austin Vice Provost, Ricardo Romo, said that in the past, "too much emphasis has been placed on standardized scores."

"In the past, if you received a score of 1250 [on the SAT] or above, you were automatically admitted. Now, you can have a [perfect] score of 1600 and it doesn't automatically get you in."

Romo said that deemphasizing scores is justified because "creating an index sends the wrong message."

In discussions among UT administrators, "there are not a lot of defenders of test scores," he said. Evidence clearly shows that the best indicator for success at a university is class rank and grades in core curriculum classes. "That's the best predictor. Not tests."

In discussing how other schools nationwide have already abolished standardized tests as admissions criteria, Romo said that most of them are smaller colleges and universities. UT receives 20,000 applications per year and test scores have served as "another benchmark." He agrees that in the past, they in fact have been used as gatekeepers by some colleges and universities nationwide.

Higher education is highly competitive and a decision like Hopwood hurts UT, said Romo. …