UC system commits to test-free admissions for foreseeable future

Concluding more than three years of deliberation, the University of California (UC) has announced that it will not use any standardized test to make admissions decisions. Given UC’s size and prestige, the decision may be seen “as a harbinger of the future of standardized testing in admissions” and could “embolden other campuses to do likewise,” the Los Angeles Times reports.

Phasing out the SAT/ACT

The system’s Board of Regents in May 2020 voted unanimously to phase out the use of SAT/ACT test scores in admissions decisions. The 10-campus system planned to extend its test-optional policy through fall 2022 and 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.

However, in May 2021 UC settled an ongoing lawsuit filed in 2019 by a group of students, advocates, and representatives from the Compton Unified School District, who asserted that the standardized exams are biased against disabled, low-income, Black, and Latinx students. Under the decision, UC accelerated its planned phase-out and pledged to no longer consider SAT or ACT scores.

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According to Higher Ed Dive, UC welcomed its most diverse undergraduate class ever in fall 2021 after receiving more than 200,000 applications, a new record. UC President Michael V. Drake, meanwhile, had asked the system’s Academic Senate to explore the feasibility and advisability of using an alternative to the SAT and ACT in admissions.

Considering an alternative exam

In particular, the Academic Senate looked at an assessment called Smarter Balanced, used for K-12 students in the state. Faculty concluded that the test would not offer much more insight than high school grades in predicting a student’s first-year success but would risk “reflecting and reproducing inequality.” Noting that the Senate could not find a viable alternative admissions test, UC Provost Michael Brown recently announced to the system’s Regents that “UC will continue to practice test-free admissions now and into the future.”

In its assessment, the Academic Senate faculty committee made several additional recommendations for furthering equity, including strengthening university and K-12 partnerships, increasing state funding for students’ academic preparation and universities’ application assessments, and ensuring consistent outreach to underserved high schools.

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