While forgoing its college admissions test in light of the public health situation, the University of the Philippines (UP) assured the public its ad hoc admissions system is more closely analyzing the applicants’ high school performance so that “excellence and equity” are not compromised in accepting new students.
Excellence refers to choosing the best students for UP education. In contrast, equity refers to democratic access or “leveling the playing field” so that students’ profile reflects the socio-economic and geographic profile of the country.
Recently, several sectors have expressed apprehension over UP forgoing the test component of the UP college admissions system in favor of high school grades. Various sources, including a proposed Senate resolution, have asserted that the UP College Admissions Test (UPCAT) is standardized among all aspirants and serves to level the playing field. High school grades, however, are affected by several factors, including different grading systems in different types of high school, teachers’ and schools’ standards, among others.
As an August 26, 2022 Senate press release said: “It is not the student-applicant’s fault that the high schools they attended do not have the habit of giving relatively higher grades. Without UPCAT, we are killing the dreams of these highly qualified students without giving them a chance.”
Prof. Franciso de los Reyes, data scientist and UP Office of Admissions director, said that both the old and the ad hoc system of UP admissions have always utilized high school grades as a basis for determining an applicant’s qualification for acceptance to the University. In the old system used in pre-pandemic times, the UPCAT was a component alongside the applicants’ high school general weighted average (GWA). Both are considered when generating the applicant’s UPG.
UPG refers to the University Predicted Grade, or the measure by which UP sets the cutoff between qualifiers and non-qualifiers. It is a prediction of how they would perform in UP.
As de los Reyes pointed out, in both the old admissions system with the UPCAT and the ad hoc admission system utilized during the COVID era, the applicants’ grades submitted by their high schools are transmuted and standardized into a figure that, based on previous records from the schools, cancels out factors such as grade inflation.
“Even during normal times, UP cancels out the difference in grading systems among high schools and regions,” he said. “It corrects the difference of grades between more austere schools and those that may have inflated grades. It deals with biases in grading through a system of transmutation and standardization,” he explained.
“These are biases UP can detect and rectify aided by its long experience of dealing with different kinds of high schools as it administered the admissions process through the years,” de los Reyes pointed out.
He emphasized that the shift to the ad hoc system in response to the pandemic was not a simple matter of removing the test part of the admissions system. While the UPCAT could not be administered for Academic Year (AY) 2022-2023, applicants’ high school performance would be considered through an admission score model that goes beyond obtaining the usual GWA for the computation of the UPG—an admission score model that was approved by the University Councils of the various UP constituent units.
“This is a model that went back to the high school records of 90,000 of UP’s past applicants down to each subject, and studied how these related to how they eventually performed in college,” de los Reyes said. “Using lessons from this study, we now utilize patterns and combinations of specific high school grades and other data instead of the UPCAT to come up with the UPG.”
Data science and intensive analysis conducted by UP data scientists inform each step of UP’s admission system. According to de los Reyes, a closer study of high school grades is enough to measure what the UPCAT is meant to—aptitude per subject—by scrutinizing the student-applicant’s performance in the different subjects and issues from year to year.
“As always, the UPG is then considered and weighed alongside the applicant’s kind of high school, their socio-economic status, and geographic location,” de los Reyes added.
He reported that the UP admissions system is constantly undergoing refinement. “The effect of the pandemic will have to be factored into UP’s admission system. Remote learning, suddenly imposed upon teachers and students, would have an impact on teaching, learning, and student performance that would vary immensely across different strata of society and affect the student’s chances at UP admission,” he pointed out.
According to UP, the shift to the ad hoc admissions system was studied by a multidisciplinary committee in 2020, which has a core group of 40 data scientists. It took the committee six months, beginning in November, to formulate and run the chosen model. The University Councils of each UP constituent unit finally approved the model in May 2021 on the strength of the scientific rigor and vetting that went into its development.