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  • Swati Chopra

University of California drops SAT/ACT in spite of Academic Senate recommendation

Since 1926, generation after generation has feared the SATs. This century-long reign may now be coming to an end. Two years ago, University of Chicago was one of the first elite universities in the United States to drop the SAT/ACT requirement for incoming students. Those of us in higher education watched, wondering if other institutions would follow. This year, the pandemic sped up this shift in admissions policy by causing many high-ranked STEM universities to drop requirements for SAT subject tests. While most universities have chosen to go test optional for the next few years due to the pandemic, few have declared the decision to be permanent.

On Thursday, May 21st, the University of California regents unanimously (23-0) approved the suspension of the standardized testing requirement (ACT/SAT) for all freshman applicants until fall 2024. The suspension will allow the University to create a new test that better aligns with the content the University expects students to have mastered for college readiness. However, if a new test does not meet specified criteria in time for fall 2025 admission, University of California has said they will entirely eliminate the standardized testing requirement for California students.

Here are the main takeaway points for California students:

Class of 2021, 2022 - UCs will go test optional. Students can submit scores on their application, but it is not required. Additionally, the essay/writing section of the SAT/ACT is no longer required for ALL future applicants.

Class of 2023, 2024 - UCs will go test-blind for these two years. This means that while students would still have the option of submitting a test score for the purposes of course placement, certain scholarships, and eligibility for the statewide admissions guarantee, their test scores will NOT be considered for admissions purposes.

Class of 2025 and beyond - The UCs plan to create a new test which will be a better indicator of college readiness for their applicants. Whether or not this test is created and finalized, California students will no longer be required to take the SAT/ACT.

These changes will affect out of state students starting with the class of 2021 and includes the class of 2022, when UC waives the SAT/ACT requirement. Starting with the class of 2023, the UCs have stated that "the Academic Senate will start to work with University administration on appropriate approach for nonresident students."

See the full proposal here.

This decision comes after and in spite of an influential faculty task force issued a report in February that called for the tests to be retained as part of UC applications. The task force argued the standardized exams are good predictors of college success for low-income and some black and Latino students and that high school grades and GPA are not sufficient to judge freshmen applicants.

In April, the Academic Senate sent a letter to the UC President, Janet Napolitano with it's recommendation to eliminate the SAT Essay/ACT Writing Test as a requirement for UC undergraduate admissions. The Assembly also supported a recommendation from the Academic Council “to endorse the (Standardized Testing Task Force) report, with the recommendation that in five years the University revisit whether the added value of the SAT/ACT still holds.” The Assembly vote on this motion was 51-0 with one abstention.

UC faculty Senate chair Kum-Kum Bhavnani defended the report after the UC decision on Thursday to eliminate the SAT/ACT saying that she preferred a slower alternate to the UC decision but did agree that the tests needed to be eliminated for the next two admissions cycles. Bhavnani acknowledged that standardized tests could be racially biased but claimed bias is erased by the way University of California admissions officers place scores in the context of many other factors, such as a student’s family income and how a score compares to other students at the same high school.

Despite the issues associated with the SAT/ACT that drove the UCs to suspend their use, in a system like the University of California that receives over 170,000 applications per year from all around the nation and world, standardized measures like the SAT/ACT allow admissions officials to compare students from vastly different schools against a common standard. While the UCs announced that they would pursue the creation of their own standardized test which would more accurately measure the content they expect their students to be familiar with in high school, it remains unclear how they will create a new standardized test which negates the flaws of the SAT. If the SAT is accused of being unfair due to the heightened opportunities for test prep afforded to wealthier students, how will a UC-specific test be any different? Considering that private and out-of-state colleges still consider the SAT/ACT, it's not unreasonable to worry that this decision could ultimately result in students in the class of 2025 and beyond being forced to study for both the SAT/ACT as well as another, UC-specific test.

In addition, all of these decisions only affect California students. The UC regents have not yet confirmed what their policy will be for out-of-state students beyond 2023, but it is difficult to imagine what path they will take. While the UCs are familiar with the high schools in California and are therefore able to contextualize the GPAs and extracurricular achievements of California applicants, this is a far more daunting task when extended to high schools in all fifty states and across the world. In these cases, SAT/ACT scores provide valuable insight into student achievement that will not be so easily replaced.

At this point, while the decision made by the UC regents has been widely applauded by educators and students alike, we will have to see how it all pans out in the next five years. All eyes will be on America's biggest and most prestigious public university system and for good reason.


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