In 1986, Proposition 48 became a means to link athletic eligibility with academic performance. The proposition regulates the discussion today that surrounds NCAA standardized testing— whether high school student athletes should be required to have minimum grades and SAT scores to be eligible to compete in college athletics.
For decades, this single proposition has done more than just regulate. It also restricts. The proposition serves as a racial barrier for many minority student athletes. The NCAA Standardized Test Task Force was created to respond to the larger issues of race and equity that are tied to Proposition 48. In October 2021, their recent proposal to remove standardized testing was made after almost six months of research with organizations including the National Association for College Admission Counseling, the College Board and ACT testing agencies.
“For inner city kids, if they don’t have guidance or just only know the sport they play, standardized testing definitely hinders them,” said Ralph Jones, senior football player at Lake Erie College. “That’s why a lot of dudes go the community college route because they don’t have the academic eligibility out of high school. They aren’t able to go to a four year, especially D1 university because their GPA, SAT, or ACT may not be enough.”
Proposition 48 initially required student-athletes to have a 2.0 GPA in 13 approved academic core courses and an SAT of 1010 or a combined ACT of 86. Student-athletes with lower test scores were required to accommodate them with higher GPAs.
As of 2018, academic requirements for Division I were updated to 16 core courses, a minimum GPA of 2.3, and an ACT or SAT score based on a qualifier scale in relation to a particular GPA. For a 2.3 GPA, the required test scores would be a 950 SAT and 72 ACT.
These academic requirements present a problem in regards to racial equity.
Had Prop. 48 been in effect in 1984 and 1985, the McIntosh Commission on Fair Play in Student-Athlete Admissions found that it would have denied full eligibility to 47% of African American student-athletes who went on to graduate, but just 8% of white student-athletes.
The SAT scores of the class of 2019 averaged 1059. The average score for Blacks that year was 933.
In 1995, the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics found that Prop. 48′s test score cutoff would deny full eligibility to more than one-third of lower-income students, despite their success in the classroom.
With standardized testing limiting the chances of certain demographics, lower income and minority student-athletes would have the most to gain from this amended requirement. For many minority student-athletes, sports are their only opportunity towards receiving higher education.
“Majority of kids, that’s the way they see out to get into a better situation in life,” Jones said. “Some kids don’t have parents to pay for college, and getting scholarships academically can be a challenge, so sports is their outlet to get to college.”
Beyond affluent and higher income families being better positioned to leverage educational opportunities and resources, there is also historical racism that places minorities at a disadvantage when it comes to standardized testing.
In 1926, the SAT was developed by Carl Brigham, who was also a member of the eugenics movement. This eugenics ideology would serve an important role in justifying the underlying principles of racists and classist values through standardized tests.
In the last few years, there has been an uptick in interest in the racial harm of standardized testing.
The National Association of Basketball Coaches said in a 2020 statement: “The days of colleges requiring the SAT or ACT are passing rapidly...These tests should no longer be required in the initial-eligibility standards. The tests are again being recognized as forces of institutional racism, which is consistent with their history, and they should be jettisoned for that reason alone; moreover, pragmatics also support this change.”
In October 2021, the NCAA Standardized Test Task Force also backed up this statement, recommending that incoming freshmen in Division I and II sports should no longer be required to meet minimum scores on standardized tests for initial eligibility.
The task force was created in support of the NCAA’s eight-point plan to address racial equity and social justice. The NCAA Division I and Division II Committee on Academic Requirements will meet in February 2022 to further discuss the topic and make official decisions.
“If they did get rid of standardized testing as a whole, it can affect the competition market,” Jones said. “I personally think it would be a positive for equality across the board.”