- In a highly anticipated new report, a University of California System panel refused to endorse removing the SAT and ACT as a requirement for admissions.
- The decision comes as UC is being sued by advocates who argue the tests disadvantage low-income and minority students.
- The fight for the system to go test-optional isn't over, however. The Academic Senate will review the committee's findings and seek feedback from professors before making a recommendation to system President Janet Napolitano.
The Academic Council, which part of the senate, appointed a committee in January 2019 to study the SAT and ACT's role in UC admissions. This was nearly a year before a group of students, nonprofits and a largely minority school district in California sued the system, demanding that it stop using the exams.
The coalition contends in part that the tests are prejudiced against racial and ethnic minorities and poor students. It targeted the system deliberately in the lawsuit. UC is one of the largest research systems in the country, and it enrolls more than 226,000 undergraduates.
Should the lawsuit succeed, other institutions and systems nationwide may be inclined to get rid of the exams, dealing a heavy blow to the College Board and other test providers.
UC System representatives have previously declined to comment on the merits of the lawsuit, focusing instead on the committee's work. The task force, in its latest announcement, called for further research on the potential effects of going test-optional.
Task force members acknowledged a gap in the demographics of admitted UC students as compared to those of high school graduates in the state. Roughly 37% of in-state freshmen admitted in 2019 were Latino, black or Native American, compared to 59% of California high school graduates. However, the task force wrote in its report, UC "appears" to be using the test scores "to help identify students within each socioeconomic group who are most likely to succeed."
UC institutions also take into account if students come from disadvantaged backgrounds and have "compensated" for differences in their test scores, the task force wrote. This means they are considering more than just students' success or failure on the SAT or ACT.
It also found that students' test scores appear to be a sound metric for how well they will perform academically in their initial years and may be an indicator of certain other outcomes, such as whether they will drop out.
In the past decade at UC, "the predictive power of test scores has gone up, and the predictive power of high school grades has gone down," the task force wrote.
This finding belies a recent study suggesting that a high school GPA predicts college graduation rates five times more effectively than does an ACT score.
The Indiana University System similarly reasoned that a high school GPA was a better predictor of academic performance for many students than test scores when it allowed its campuses to move to test-optional policies in December. At least seven of its nine campuses, including its flagship, have elected to remove their testing admissions requirements.
At least 51 institutions went test-optional in 2019, according to the National Center for Fair and Open Testing (FairTest). This year one college, Northern Illinois University, went completely test-blind, meaning it won't consider students' test results even if they submit them.
In a statement, Bob Schaeffer, interim executive director at FairTest, expressed some optimism for the UC task force's report, noting that the final decision rests with the system's board of regents, which is expected to decide on the issue at its May meeting. Schaeffer said the data the group used should be made more widely available for review.