- The University of California System will no longer use standardized test scores as part of its undergraduate admissions processes, likely making it the largest four-year higher education entity in the U.S. to become assessment-free and striking a significant blow to testing providers.
- The system had largely abandoned entrance exams in May 2020. About a year later it agreed to not consider SAT and ACT scores until 2025 to settle a lawsuit.
- The Board of Regents discussed the decision in a meeting Thursday. UC President Michael Drake, who was present at the meeting, had agreed with recommendations made by an Academic Senate study group that the system should not try out another test, Smarter Balanced, in admissions.
Many colleges converted to test-optional admissions policies as the coronavirus began sweeping the country last year, shuttering common sites where students take the SAT and ACT.
Opponents of entrance exams say they are racist barometers that exacerbate barriers for low-income and other historically marginalized students, as their wealthier counterparts can afford extensive test prep to boost their scores. Test providers have maintained that the exams themselves are not racist instruments and that they can strengthen underrepresented students' applications.
Research has found test-optional policies lead to modest gains in student body diversity.
The UC System's size and prominence made it a bellwether for testing issues nationally. Its decision last May to no longer require scores, and its subsequent move to no longer even accept them, proved highly influential in the testing market.
The system had mulled crafting its own replacement test or embracing Smarter Balanced, an exam largely used by K-12 schools, but officials found neither option palatable.
The Academic Senate group tapped to study the feasibility of Smarter Balanced in admissions reported that 11th graders' scores on the test "add only modest incremental value" beyond high school GPA in predicting first-year students' grades. It would also likely come at the same cost as using the SAT, according to the group.
"We did talk about this in the study group, and there just simply aren't any tests in existence now that wouldn't reproduce the kind of inequities we're concerned about," Mary Gauvain, past chair of the Academic Senate, said in the regent board meeting Thursday.
The UC System admitted its most diverse undergraduate class ever in fall 2021, a fact Drake drew attention to in Thursday's meeting. He said that if a test arose that met the system's needs, it could be considered.
But Alexis Atsilvsgi Zaragoza, student regent, said during the meeting that adopting a new test in the future would likely disrupt the system's admissions procedures, which already underwent rapid changes.
Zaragoza said that UC's decision was monumental and would resonate across California and nationally, potentially adding fuel to the campaign to remove test scores as a factor in the U.S. News & World Report's rankings.
UC serves as a model "for running large-scale, fair, accurate" score-free admissions, according to Bob Schaeffer, executive director of FairTest, an organization that calls for limited use of standardized assessments.
Its place as "the best public higher education system in the nation will create competitive pressure on other states to follow suit," Schaeffer said in an email. He also noted UC could provide data to other institutions designing their own processes.
Neither the ACT nor the College Board, which administers the SAT, immediately responded to requests for comment Thursday. The testing providers lost tens of millions of dollars in revenue from 2019 to 2020 as the number of test-takers declined, The Chronicle of Higher Education reported recently.
FairTest has identified more than 1,800 four-year colleges with test-optional admissions for fall 2022, though this count also includes institutions that have not historically required scores.