California State University eliminates SAT, ACT from admissions

California State University (CSU), the nation’s largest four-year public college system, announced it will no longer consider applicants’ SAT and ACT scores in the undergraduate admissions process for its 23 campuses. With this decision, CSU joins the University of California (UC), which decided last year to no longer require test scores for admissions or scholarship decisions. The two systems collectively enroll around 777,000 students.

“The size and scope of those institutions creates pressure on the rest of public higher ed to follow suit,” Robert Schaeffer, executive director at The National Center for Fair and Open Testing (FairTest), which advocates for test-optional policies, tells Higher Ed Dive. However, this week’s announcement from MIT that it will reinstate its SAT/ACT admissions requirement offered a reminder that some institutions still consider standardized test scores to be helpful inputs when gauging students’ academic preparedness.

Related: Test-optional policies are here to say, ACT report suggests. >

CSU looks to GPAs, activities instead

CSU’s decision comes at a time when many U.S. colleges and universities have either temporarily or permanently relaxed their admissions test requirements. System officials say they hope that eliminating test scores from consideration will help “level the playing field” and increase access for students of all backgrounds.

CSU’s admissions formula will prioritize high school GPA and extracurricular activities; the system’s advisory board determined that GPA was better at predicting students’ academic success and resulted in a much higher representation of low-income and underrepresented minority students in CSU’s applicant pool than test scores. However, the board also advised CSU to consider additional factors beyond GPA in admissions decisions, as different K-12 school districts offer students widely divergent opportunities.

Related: If California goes test-optional, could grades alone predict academic success? >

While the College Board gave no comment at the time of CSU’s announcement, ACT asserted in a statement that setting aside standardized tests “introduces greater subjectivity and uncertainty into the admissions process,” as metrics like high school GPAs reflect inequalities in K-12 education. 

For MIT admissions team, a valued input

Just on the heels of CSU’s announcement, MIT said its admissions office will take a different tack and resume its standardized test requirements for fall 2023 admission, according to The Washington Post. MIT for the last two years has been test-optional, but most of its 33,796 applicants submitted ACT or SAT scores.

Echoing test providers’ contention that their assessments help underrepresented students showcase their academic strengths, MIT cited its own research showing that test scores, particularly in the math section, are more reliable and equitable predictors of a student’s academic success than high school GPA. MIT undergraduate students, no matter their major, must pass two semesters of calculus and take two semesters of calculus-based physics courses. Students must also pass those courses’ final exams in order to continue their education at the institute.

In the announcement, Stu Schmill, MIT’s dean of admissions and student financial services, said, “We do not value scores for their own sake.” Rather, MIT has a holistic admissions process that considers test scores alongside other factors. University officials say the test scores can help elevate the applications of socioeconomically disadvantaged students who otherwise could not show their talents because they come from schools without advanced coursework, are unable to get letters of recommendation, or have faced other barriers to education opportunities.

The Post notes, however, that other math-centric universities feel differently. California Institute of Technology will maintain its test-free policy for Fall 2023, and Worcester Polytechnic Institute has barred consideration of SAT and ACT scores after previously having a test-optional policy.

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