High school students across the US aren’t taking standardized SAT and ACT tests this year due to COVID-19 shutdowns, but students applying to the University of California (UC) in the future will never have to take the tests at all. The UC system voted unanimously to phase out ACT and SAT test scores by the fall of 2025.
The UC system has relied on standardized tests to determine admittance for 50 years, but critics argue the tests are racially biased and give an unfair advantage to wealthier students who can pay their way to higher scores. The UC admissions process accounts for educational inequalities in terms of applicant GPAs but did not have the same methods for evaluating testing scores. This is significant, as research has shown that 12 percent of Hispanics and 9 percent of African Americans scored a 1200 or higher on the SAT, compared to 45 percent of whites and 55 percent of Asian-Americans.
The UC regents spent six hours asking testing experts detailed questions about the purpose of the admissions tests, their ability to predict college success, and whether they’re a fair measure of what students actually know, before voting to discontinue their use.
The UC system has given itself a five year buffer period to come up with a viable alternative test. If they cannot do so, testing requirements will be dropped altogether in favor of a higher emphasis on personal essays and high school transcripts.
After the vote last month, UC President Janet Napolitano released the plan for students applying for admission during this transition period. The tests will be optional for students until 2022, and for 2023 and 2024, admissions offices will not consider standardized scores. The essay portion of the ACT and SAT will also be dropped beginning next year.
Napolitano is scheduled to leave her role as president this summer, but urged the board and academic senate to “drill down into factors that contribute to the disproportionate representation, or un-representation, of students from underserved communities within our student population.”
Some still have reservations about the ability of any test, even an adjusted one, to serve as an equal assessment of all students. “While we understand the desire for a universal, standardized metric, it is hard to imagine that a new standardized test would somehow evade all the equity concerns of the SAT and ACT,” said the UC Student Association in a letter released concerning the decision.
The UC system joins a growing list of universities doing away with standardized testing. Many schools, like the prestigious University of Chicago, have determined the tests to be unfair and outdated. At a time when equality, specifically racial equality, is at the forefront of our consciousness, equalizing public education access is one of the strongest tools we have for social justice.