UC board votes to drop SAT/ACT requirement in ‘landmark decision’

The University of California (UC) Board of Regents on Thursday voted unanimously to phase out the use of SAT and ACT test scores when evaluating candidates for admission. Calling the move a “landmark decision,” the Los Angeles Times said UC’s change “could reshape the nation’s college admissions process,” given the system’s size and influence.

UC leaders in April had announced that, in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the system would temporarily waive its standardized testing requirement for students applying for first-year admission in fall 2021. Then, last week, UC President Janet Napolitano issued a memo outlining a five-year process for eliminating the SAT/ACT admissions requirement across UC’s 10 campuses, which collectively enroll around 300,000 students. 

Under the newly approved plan—the culmination of several years of discussion—UC will extend its test-optional policy through fall 2022. The system will then go “test-blind” for California students during the 2023 and 2024 admissions cycles, considering standardized test results only for out-of-state students and in awarding scholarships. In the meantime, UC will explore the feasibility of creating its own assessment, possibly collaborating with other California institutions. UC says that, regardless of the outcome, it will fully eliminate use of the SAT and ACT by 2025. 

‘Ripple effects across American higher education’

More than 1,000 colleges and universities have gone test-optional in recent years, with many citing concerns that the SAT and ACT exacerbate racial and ethic disparities in educational access. With standardized tests postponed amid the COVID-19 pandemic, that number has only grown

Currently, UC is the largest single source of customers for the College Board and “one of the best institutions in the world, so whatever decision they make will be extraordinarily influential,” Terry W. Hartle, senior vice president at the American Council on Education, told The New York Times. UC’s decision, he said, “will have ripple effects across American higher education, particularly at leading public universities.”

While proponents of test-optional policies lauded the decision as an important step forward for higher education access and equity, others voiced concerns about the potential for grade inflation, backlash, and increased expenses for UC as it makes the changes. The College Board, which administers the SAT, suggested that UC’s decision could make it more burdensome for students to apply to college if they need to take one admissions test for UC and the SAT/ACT for others. “Having to take multiple tests will likely cause many of these students to limit their college options much earlier,” the organization said in a statement.  

Ultimately, however, UC’s governing board concluded that “these tests are extremely flawed and very unfair,” said UC board member and Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, adding “enough is enough.”

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