In a proposal to the UC Regents to be discussed at their May 21 meeting, UC President Janet Napolitano recommended on Monday that the UC suspend its use of the SAT and ACT for admissions and instead work to find a more equitable standardized testing solution.
Napolitano is joining a growing group of UC leaders — including UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ and UC Santa Cruz Chancellor Cynthia Larive — who are advocating for the elimination of the ACT and SAT in admissions. As the idea gained traction in recent years, universities across the country have made testing optional or eliminated it altogether.
Under the proposal, the ACT and SAT would be optional for two years, with testing requirements eliminated completely for two years after that. Starting in 2025, a “modif[ied] or create[d] test that better aligns with the content UC expects applicants to have learned and with UC’s values” will be used, according to the action item proposed for the May 21 meeting.
If the UC is unable to modify or create a new test in time for California freshmen applicants in 2025, Napolitano recommends that the UC suspend its testing requirements for California students altogether.
The recommendation specifies that the potential elimination of the ACT and SAT after 2025 only applies to in-state students, and that the UC President will work with the Academic Senate to determine an approach for out-of-state and international students from 2025 onwards. Some potential options include having students take the same assessment as California students or continuing to accept their ACT and SAT scores.
The proposal follows the UC Academic Senate’s comprehensive proposal in February, which found that current standardized testing procedures may be a factor in the underrepresentation of minority groups at UC schools.
However, while the Academic Senate’s Standardized Testing Task Force (STTF) laid out the need for a new testing method, it recommended that the UC continue mandatory testing for now, the opposite of Napolitano’s proposal.
The STTF’s report ultimately concluded that the UC uses standardized tests responsibly and appropriately. Academic Council Chair Kum-Kum Bhavnani wrote in an April letter to the Regents that the Academic Council disagreed with that assessment from the STTF.
The Regents announced in March that Fall 2021 admissions would be “test optional” due to the coronavirus pandemic, which Napolitano now recommends be continued until 2022. Those who don’t submit a score will not be put at a disadvantage.
In 2023 and 2024, Napolitano recommends that UC admissions be “test blind,” where students can still submit a score, but it would be used for purposes other than selection, such as “course placement, certain scholarships, and eligibility for the statewide admissions guarantee,” where students across the state with top scores are guaranteed admission to a UC.
Under Napolitano’s proposal, in a sixth-month process beginning in summer 2020 and ending in January 2021, the UC will identify or create a new test by consulting with K-12 educators, test experts, the California State University (CSU) and UC faculty to “construct a test better suited for the needs of UC” for fall 2025 applicants.
Additionally, Napolitano’s recommendation concurs with the STTF to eliminate the SAT Writing test, calling it “an unnecessary time and cost burden for students.”
Moving forward, one potential option noted by Napolitano is the Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBAC), an 11th grade standardized test already used in California and other states.
The STTF, however, recommended to Napolitano in its report that the UC not use the SBAC test, which they said is aligned to a different set of academic standards than the ACT and SAT.
Critics of the ACT and SAT argue that race and income are indicators of success on the test, and that inequitable access to test prep prevents low-income students and underrepresented minorities from getting high scores. Several groups have filed lawsuits against the UC to eliminate the tests in admissions, calling the tests biased.
Advocates of the SAT and ACT argue that it is the only way to determine a student’s academic success across the state, as grading systems vastly differ from school to school. They also argue that the test is only one of fourteen factors in admissions — weighed less than high school grades — so changing the test would not make a significant impact on a student’s admission.
The Regents will discuss standardized testing in their board meeting on May 21, where they will look at Napolitano’s proposal and Academic Senate recommendations and vote on a plan for standardized testing moving forward.