NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Spanish Language Tests Rescue Affirmative Action

June 26, 2001

Although California voters in recent years struck down rules that granted preferences to Hispanic students in college admissions, Hispanics who are less than fully prepared for college are finding a way around that prohibition. The means for doing so are also available in other states, suggesting a surge in Hispanic admissions nationwide.

This year, the University of California began assigning less weight to SATs -- the traditional yardstick for admissions -- and more to SAT IIs, formerly known as achievement tests. Applicants must take SAT IIs in math and writing, plus a third in any subject they choose -- including Spanish.

So those who grew up in a Spanish-speaking home ace the Spanish section, which often sufficiently offsets low scores in the math and writing sections to guarantee them admissions. Thus the test becomes an undeclared affirmative-action policy.

The gap between Hispanic students' scores on the Spanish exam and other tests is startling, experts report.

  • This year, students at the predominantly Hispanic Jefferson High School in Los Angeles -- one of the lowest achieving in the state -- averaged 715 out of 800 on the Spanish exam, more than 100 points above the national norm.
  • But they scored 390 out of 800 on the verbal SAT and 402 on math -- far below national averages.
  • So the number of Jefferson grads admitted to the University of California system soared more than 50 percent this year.
  • Critics point out that there is no such exam which might benefit African-American students -- who are often denied admission to UC under the new admissions policy and are forced to attend less prestigious institutions.

Black students tend to pick U.S. history or English literature as their third SAT II. On both tests they score an average 524 nationally -- far below the 736 that native Spanish speakers average on the Spanish SAT II.

Hispanic admissions soared 18 percent this year, against a 10 percent overall rise and a 14 percent increase for African-Americans.

Source: Daniel Golden, "Hispanic Students Find a Way Around Affirmative-Action Ban," Wall Street Journal, June 26, 2001.

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