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Q&A with Eddie Comeaux

The co-chair of the University of California task force studying the future of SATs weighs in on the committee's decision.
By JD Warren |

UC Riverside Graduate School of Education Associate Professor Eddie Comeaux served as co-chair of the university-wide task force studying whether to recommend keeping or eliminating standardized tests as a factor in admissions decisions. This past week, the task force concluded its year-plus study by recommending the University of California continue using the SATs, at least for now. The findings will now be reviewed by a faculty senate committee, after which the recommendation will be forwarded to President Janet Napolitano. Napolitano will then decide whether to back the recommendation, which she will forward to the UC Regents for a vote. 

Did you have a sense the world would be watching your recommendations, and that they could become a template for the rest of the country? 
What typically happens in California are the signs to come on a national level. We are a bellwether for the nation. We’re a big university system. No other university system is like us. When you’re talking about UCLA, with more than 130,000 applications in every admissions cycle, if we make a decision, it’s going to have a national impact. 

Of the task force discussions, you were quoted in an L.A. Times article as saying: “It wasn’t kumbaya in the room."

This was a political document; it was a political argument. It was pretty intense. Some folks on the outside would perceive it as fighting, but that’s how policy works. You have to figure out how to compromise. There are a lot of people with a vested interest, and this is their life’s work. When they found out there was some value (to SATs), they had a hard time swallowing that. 

Has “kill the SATs” been a sort of fever? Is that dangerous? 

Yes. The test is not perfect. We propose new assessments in the recommendations, something more inclusive. But that’s about nine years out, probably more. So for now, as long as we’re not using the test aggressively, and we’re contextualizing the scores, it may do harm, but not to the extent of the perceptions people have. People believe the test is solely driving admissions decisions when that is absolutely not the case.

Do the committee’s recommendations mirror your own feelings? 

There is nothing that we laid out that I don’t agree with. There is some value to SATs, particularly when we look at scores in context. We can’t create a new assessment overnight. For us to vote for a new assessment now would have been kicking the can down the road.

What has the reception been to the recommendations? 

Internally, they’ve been well received. They felt the analysis was really strong. There was a lot that went into this. I feel good about it. Did we go far enough? We can debate that. But we painted a picture people will have a hard time disrupting.

Since the task force recommendation was issued this past week, some members are now suggesting a deadline should be set for eliminating the SATs. Where do you weigh in?

I have a problem with eliminating a test when we don’t have anything to back it up. It’s more complex than this. Then we only have one cognitive measure left, which is GPA. Then we are dealing with grade inflation, which is advantaging more affluent communities because their parents are pushing for extra credit and the highest possible grade where others may not have the social capital to understand A- from B-. To eliminate SATs and move to only GPA just perpetuates the problem.

Do you have a sense of whether the regents will adopt your recommendation?

Some regents have been saying publicly they want to do away with the test scores, so I have a sense of what they may do. Some of them want to get rid of it. I don’t know where the president stands. I know where the provost, Michael Brown, stands. He said publicly he wants to get rid of it. I don’t know if that’s any signal of where the president and regents may vote.

Would you be surprised if they don’t follow the recommendation?

Based on what I’ve been hearing, I would not be surprised.