In an effort to increase the number of African-American and Hispanic students admitted at University High School, TUSD is considering giving kids who come up just short academically extra credit for being highly motivated.
The proposed “motivation test” is designed to measure student persistence or motivation around learning.
If approved, students looking to attend the nationally-recognized school will still be required to take the existing entrance test and have a 3.0 GPA in four core classes. But if they fall short in either of those categories, a good score on the motivation test can be used as extra points to qualify for admission, at least for the first year. After that, TUSD will re-evaluate the weight/point distribution for the motivation test.
While the motivation test is new, this is not the first time UHS has used an alternative test allowing students to earn bonus points. In the past, the Ravens test was utilized and was worth as many bonus points as the motivation test would be, said University High Principal Dean Packard. Ravens was dropped when the test became available online and was no longer considered an effective measure.
Packard does not believe use of a motivation test is in any way lowering the bar for admissions.
“It’s an opportunity for students to address some issues that may have arisen, whether it’s in the entrance test or in the GPA,” he said. “There are always challenges that people face in life that cause external stress. But by having that motivation test, it mitigates a semester of challenge or a small specific problem you may have, and allows you to still experience something that you’re most likely extremely qualified for.”
TUSD Board member Cam Juarez agreed with Packard, saying the additional test does not lower the bar, rather it’s a step toward ensuring that students remain at UHS and are successful.
The revision is required as part of TUSD’s decades-long desegregation effort. The Unitary Status Plan — the district’s road map for getting out from under the court order — calls for multiple measures for admission so that “all students have an equitable opportunity to enroll at University High School.”
Historically, UHS has had disproportionately low African-American and Latino student populations compared to the rest of TUSD’s high schools.
A Tucson Unified School District analysis shows that if the motivation test had been in place over the last three years, 5 percent more African-American and 53 percent more Hispanic students could have been admitted to University High using the bonus points. At the same time, 35 percent more Anglo students would have also been admitted.
The first class to take the motivation test would be this year’s eighth-graders seeking admission to UHS for the upcoming 2014-2015 school year.
To create the revised admissions process, TUSD consulted with experts on the use of multiple measures, reviewed best practices used by other school districts in admitting students to similar programs or schools, and worked with the desegregation plaintiffs and a court-appointed special master.
Some of the experts interviewed called the single criteria process “antiquated,” preferring the use of multiple measures and a more holistic approach to the admissions process.
Further changes to the UHS admissions process will be made for students applying for the 2015-2016 school year. At that time, soon-to-be freshmen will also take a noncognitive admissions component consisting of questions and short answers. Teacher evaluations also will be required.
The admission process will be reviewed annually by a UHS committee to ensure students’ needs are being met while maintaining high expectations for students on entry, Packard said.
While the goal is to increase diversity at University High, the district maintains the proposed admissions process will be applied in a race-neutral manner.
“Although TUSD endeavors to positively impact the percentages of African- American and Hispanic enrollment and success at UHS, the proposed application process is designed to be impartial and to offer equity and fairness to all students who apply,” a TUSD memo said.