How UC Bureaucrats Use Advanced Placement Tests To Help Asians, Hurt Whites
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My article last week on Advanced Placement (AP) tests provoked my favorite type of letter: one that tells me I don't know what I'm talking about and then proceeds to be so informative that I finally do know.

I focused on AP tests' emergence as a sort of tacit tracking mechanism for high schools and the sharp racial differences in students' taking and passing them.

My correspondent, a test tutor called Mitchell Carr, emails:

"I know more about AP, SAT, and ACT test scores and their use in college admissions than you do, and that's saying a lot. … Your AP article's focus is totally screwy … The public policy issue about AP has nothing to do with the pass rate of APs, but rather AP's influence on college admissions via Grade Point Average (GPA)."

Carr proceeds to document that the proliferation of Advanced Placement classes in high schools has harmed the chances to get into the University of California of white (and to some extent middle class black and Hispanic) kids. It benefits some inner city blacks and Latinos—but mostly it boosts upscale Asians. Result: as USA Today reported in April:

"Asian-Americans are the single largest ethnic group among UC's 173,000 undergraduates. In 2008, they accounted for 40% at UCLA and 43% at UC Berkeley — the two most selective campuses in the UC system — as well as 50% at UC San Diego and 54% at UC Irvine. Asian-Americans are about 12% of California's population …" [University of Calif. admissions rule angers Asian-Americans, April 24, 2009]

Why? It's largely due to a complicated (and, not surprisingly, not terribly competent) ploy by University of California administrators to get around the ban on affirmative action in government imposed by California voters in 1996. Their stratagems have been quickly deciphered by workaholic Asians. As the May 2008 Minutes of the University of California Academic Council state, "… Asian students seem to be very good at figuring out the technical requirements of UC eligibility."

Admissions to the nine University of California campuses are a big deal for several reasons:

  • California makes up one-eighth of the population of the country

  • Tuition for California residents at world-famous UC Berkeley or UCLA is still under $10,000 per year, which means that Californians who win admission can save huge sums relative to comparably prestigious colleges.

  • Taken as a whole, the University of California ranks with Harvard as the most influential institution of higher learning. My correspondent Carr writes: "Whatever the UC does trickles down to everyone else".

For example, when UC President Richard C. Atkinson noticed his "granddaughter, then in 6th grade, already diligently preparing for the SAT by testing herself on long lists of verbal analogies", he wrote an Op-Ed [PDF] criticizing the make-up of the SAT. To please their largest customer, the College Board quickly dropped the useful analogy questions and added the expensive and dubious Writing section.

Ever since Proposition 209, UC administrators have searched for sneakier ways to admit more Latinos and blacks. The California Latino Legislative Caucus made clear to the UC Board of Regents that they'd better manipulate the system to admit more Hispanics or they'd have their budget cut.

In response, Carr emails me, the UC schools downplayed absolute test scores in favor of relativistic high school grades: "Once affirmative action was outlawed, UCs made GPA ever more important, and it now represents 75% of admissions decisions."

Berkeley education professors Saul Geiser and Maria Veronica Santelices confirmed that in a 2007 study, Validity of High-School Grades in Predicting Student Success beyond the Freshman Year [PDF]:

"After California voters approved Proposition 209 in 1995, former UC President Richard Atkinson … instituted several major changes in admissions policy that became effective in 2001. UC introduced 'comprehensive review,' an admissions policy that more systematically took into account the impact of socioeconomic factors, such as parents' education and family income, on students' test scores and related indicators of academic achievement."

Thus UCLA, which gets more applications than any other college in America, started giving brownie points to applicants claiming to have been shot. (For some reason, I doubt that hunting accidents count.) Geiser and Santelices continue:

"UC also revised its Eligibility Index, a numerical scale which sets minimum HSGPA [High School GPA] and test-score requirements for admission to the UC system; the revised index gave roughly three-quarters of the weight to HSGPA and the remainder to standardized tests."

UC's purpose, of course, was to let in more Non-Asian Minority students (NAMs). It's easy to earn a high GPA at inner city high schools because students are graded on the curve and there's so little competition. Some NAMs attend schools where the valedictorian's SAT score (Math plus Verbal) might not reach 1000, which is roughly the minimum level at which it's plausible to consider a four year degree anywhere—much less at the notoriously unaccommodating UC campuses.

In 2004, for instance, among the 1041 seniors at the three high schools in Compton, CA (birthplace of the Crips gang and West Coast gangsta rap), a grand total of fourteen 12th graders scored 1000 or higher (which is the equivalent of 890 under the tougher scoring system used before 1995):

Moreover, my correspondent Mitchell Carr adds, UC adopted

"… a new policy called 'Eligibility in the Local Context', which extended eligibility for UC admission to the top four percent of graduates from each California high school."

So Compton's three high schools automatically get 42 students admitted to UC schools—even though 28 of them have three-digit SAT scores and will likely flunk out.

Yet this California policy of automatically letting in the top four percent of each school isn't as bad as the top ten percent policy in Texas. That was pushed through in the 1990s by Gov. George W. Bush (where have we heard that name before?) to sleaze around a court ruling banning quotas.

Inevitably, UC's decision to give more weight to grades led to schools engaging in a grade inflation arms race. The main trick: classes designated "AP" by the high schools come with a "bonus point" when calculating GPA. That makes an A in an AP class worth 5 on the traditional 0 to 4 scale. Thus, freshmen admitted to UC Berkeley in 2003 averaged an absurd GPA of 4.31 on a 0 to 4 scale.

Of course, there's no evidence that giving AP classes a bonus point helps UC make better admissions decisions. Geiser and Santelices found in 2004 [The Role Of Advanced Placement And Honors Courses In College Admissions (PDF)] that a multiple regression model counting bonus points for AP classes did a worse job of predicting college freshmen's GPA than one that simply ignored bonus points.

But, again, the UC administrators don't want better students—they want minority students.

Moreover, the University of California admissions process gives no weight to getting a good score on the actual AP Test. Hence the rush by many high schools to rig the system by sticking the "AP" label on sundry mediocre classes.

My correspondent argues:

"The emphasis on GPA allows predominantly Under-Represented Minority schools (inner city and charter schools, mostly) to call a course an AP course but in fact teach something very different. (The AP curriculum checks are a joke.) But it allows their students to present transcripts to colleges with high GPAs. The colleges know they are a joke, but it gives them affirmative action cover."

For example, I've seen a document (not online) from a typical California public high school with a couple of thousand students, mostly Hispanic. Last year, 400 students received letter grades in classes designated Advanced Placement. (I'm not counting Spanish Language AP courses here, which have less to do with education than with gifts to immigrants. I'm also excluding the school's more exclusive magnet programs.)

Here's a chart summarizing report card grades awarded by the school in its official AP classes versus the scores earned by these same students on the actual College Board AP Tests.


AP Class Grade

AP Test Score

A or 5



B or 4



C or 3



D or 2



F or 1 / Not Taken



In other words, this public school bestowed As (counting as 5s for UC admissions purposes) upon 30 percent of its students taking AP classes. Nonetheless, only three percent scored 5s on their AP Tests.

Only 8 percent scored 4s or 5s. And only 24 percent simply passed the AP tests with a 3 or better.

Similarly, only 4 percent of report card grades were Fs. On the other hand, 49 percent of the school's AP students either scored the minimum 1 on the AP Test (33 percent) or didn't even attempt it (15 percent)

The average GPA in this high school's AP classes was a 3.7. In contrast, the average AP score, counting AP students who didn't take the test as 1s, was 1.7 on the 1 to 5 scale, or the equivalent of a D- in a typical college intro class.

Still, these AP scores aren't bad by public school standards. In 2006, the Washington Post reported about one local high school: "Last year, 59 of 60 tests taken at Potomac drew a score of 1, the lowest on the 5-point scale." [Pair Crack AP Test Barrier By Daniel de Vise, September 1, 2006]

In contrast, my younger son's quite rigorous high school calls few classes "AP" because it doesn't want to impose the College Board's curriculum on its star teachers. Furthermore, unlike so many schools, it doesn't want to pretend it's teaching the AP curriculum when it isn't. And the school flat doesn't like grade inflation, which gives students swelled heads.

Instead, this school gives a more reasonable 0.3 point GPA boost for taking an "Honors" class. Yet, its typical student takes four to five AP tests during his career, and averages 4.3 out of 5.

Clearly, the name of the class matters less than the quality of the teacher and students.

At this school, it's not uncommon for students to get higher scores on AP Tests than they get grades on their report cards.

This honest grading gives them a better picture of what competition will be like in UC colleges—but not a better chance of getting into one in the first place.

AP classes for Non-Asian Minorities have been heavily pushed over the last decade. For example, Jay Matthews, the education reporter for the Washington Post, [click here and scroll down for Peter Brimelow's review of his review of Worm In The Apple] created his Challenge Index that Newsweek turned into its annual Best Public High Schools in America cover story. The Index's formula is derisible:

"The number of Advanced Placement, Intl. Baccalaureate, and/or Cambridge tests taken by all students at a school in 2007 divided by the number of graduating seniors."

In other words, it doesn't matter whether the students pass the test, just that they take the test. Mitchell Carr scoffs in his email to me:

"Lots of low-income schools with hideous average SAT scores and horrible academic stats make the Newsweek Challenge Index, which leads to thousands of AP tests being turned in with randomly bubbled-in multiple-choice sections and "THEY MADE ME TAKE THIS TEST" scribbled across an otherwise empty essay section."

Carr comments:

"The lack of control of content allows low performing schools to just label courses 'AP,' while high performing schools often strictly ration access for their own purposes."


"Many high achieving kids in competitive schools, to say nothing of reasonably bright but not hyper-motivated kids, are not getting access to AP classes."

Middle class black and Hispanic families in expensive suburbs are particularly hard hit by this rationing of AP classes. Carr writes:

"Suburban minority students often have respectable SAT/ACT scores coupled with God-awful GPAs. … UC Berkeley could almost certainly get better-educated minorities by looking in Palo Alto than Oakland. But the NAM kids in Paly will have awful grades."

Paradoxically, the big winners from the UC's attempt to discriminate in favor of Non-Asian Minorities are…Asian Minorities. Carr points out:

"Once GPA became increasingly important in UC admissions, the strongest kids started taking all the AP courses they could, because of the bonus points. The irony, of course, is that grades became important because of the low achieving kids, but the public universities have to be consistent, so it rippled up. The emphasis on GPA after affirmative action was banned is the reason for the explosion of Asian students—Asians have much higher GPAs than whites (but not much higher test scores, for the most part)."

Carr notes:

"Fifteen years ago, a student with outstanding test scores and a high 3.8 GPA in AP courses could get into UC Berkeley. Today, a student who doesn't have higher than a 4.0 doesn't have a chance at Berkeley unless he's a NAM or an athlete."

Asians tend to be harder working, more organized, more conformist, and more devoted to gaming the system. In contrast, white Americans tend to have a touching faith that experts have no doubt devised fair methods for selection, so it wouldn't be sporting to try to find an edge … an assumption that immigrants find most amusing.

Carr continues:

"As for the reason white students are underrepresented in AP classes, it's probably because access is granted by GPA in most suburban schools. Asians have a better GPA, while not higher competence, than whites, and this keeps whites (particularly boys) from getting into AP classes. Parents can challenge this, but few choose to—because few white parents understand the impact that AP has on GPA."

Thus, Asians take three times as many AP Tests as whites per capita. Yet, passing rates on the AP Tests are almost identical, suggesting that whites could take a lot more AP classes if they merely got their acts together.

Currently, the UC system is talking about changing the admissions rules to make the process even more subjective—no doubt so that even more NAMs are eligible for admission.

"Asian-American advocates", always looking out for the interests of Asian-Americans, are strenuously protesting. USA Today notes:

"Asian-American advocates, parents and lawmakers are angrily calling on the university to rescind the policy … They point to a UC projection that said the new standards would sharply reduce Asian-American admissions while resulting in little change for blacks and Hispanics, and a big gain for white students. 'I like to call it affirmative action for whites,' said Ling-chi Wang, [Email him] a retired professor at UC Berkeley. 'I think it's extremely unfair to Asian-Americans on the one hand and underrepresented minorities on the other.'

Yeah—it would be grossly unfair for the primary taxpayers of California to become less underrepresented in the universities they built.

For that matter, what have white guys ever done for the human race? I mean, besides antibiotics and electromagnetism and almost all the other good ideas of the last 500 years

The un-PC truth: If anybody cares about where the next set of creative ideas that will shake up the world will come from, then we ought to be thinking about the next generation of white guys.

Sure, the kids from intact upper middle class families won't have much more than the usual trouble. But there are an awful lot of white boys being raised today by single moms who can't quite figure out males, and don't have the energy left over to figure out how to game the system for them, either.

And these kids are growing up in a culture where "white boys" are portrayed as either bad guys or buffoons.

Why put up with the hassle? There are more video games than ever to disappear into.

In summary, when it comes to university admissions, it's time to read the fine print.

There are no "White American advocates" to to do it for you.

[Steve Sailer (email him) is movie critic for The American Conservative. His website features his daily blog. His new book, AMERICA'S HALF-BLOOD PRINCE: BARACK OBAMA'S "STORY OF RACE AND INHERITANCE", is available here.]

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