UC president urges system to drop SAT/ACT requirement

Last month, leaders at the University of California (UC) announced that the system would temporarily waive its standardized testing requirement for students applying for first-year admission in the fall of 2021. The change, leaders said, was intended to reduce stress during the coronavirus crisis and was not a permanent shift. This week, however, UC President Janet Napolitano put forth a longer-term vision for eliminating the system’s SAT/ACT admissions requirement.

A five-year plan for the 10-campus system

In a memo to the Board of Regents, Napolitano recommends that the system extend its test-optional policy through the fall 2022 admissions cycle and eliminate consideration of SAT and ACT scores during the 2023 and 2024 admissions cycles for in-state applicants. Napolitano hopes that, by 2025, UC will have identified or developed “a new test that aligns with the content UC expects students should have mastered to demonstrate college readiness for California freshmen.” 

And even if that work is not yet complete by fall 2025—the Los Angeles Times cites estimates that the process could take nine years and $100 million—Napolitano says UC will still eliminate the use of the ACT/SAT for freshman in-state admissions. The plan also asks UC’s Academic Senate and leadership “to determine the appropriate approach for out-of-state and international students beginning in 2025.”

‘Likely to reverberate nationwide’

Napolitano’s memo is the latest installment in a closely watched debate at UC over whether to quash the system’s testing requirement. UC’s Board of Regents is scheduled to vote on the testing policy on May 21, and any decision “is likely to reverberate nationwide because of the size and prestige of the UC system,” writes The Washington Post. UC last year received 215,000 undergraduate applications, and 80 percent of those students had taken the SAT. The system is “largest single university source of customers for the College Board,” notes the Los Angeles Times.

If implemented, Napolitano’s five-year process also could allow observers to see how UC’s enrollment changes over time and whether the testing policies increase access for underrepresented students.

Related: SAT/ACT prep for at-home exams as more colleges go test-optional >

UC is just one of many colleges and universities that have adopted test-optional policies lately, with some reacting to the coronavirus pandemic and others attempting to level the playing field for low-income students. Writing in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Jon Boeckenstedt, the vice provost for enrollment management at Oregon State University, recently suggested that the pandemic could be the tipping point for standardized testing in America.

“Perhaps it could be a watershed moment in changing how we look at and evaluate candidates for admission, free of those tests that tell us little more about students than what their ZIP codes already reveal,” he wrote. “I hope it’s the first drop of not just the flood, but the tidal wave.”

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