Posted on October 4, 2019

Will UC Schools Drop Their SAT Scores Requirement?

Teresa Watanabe, Los Angeles Times, October 2, 2019

Half a century ago, the University of California helped catapult the SAT to a place of national prominence in the college admissions process when it began requiring all applicants to take the test and report their score.

Now the UC system, by its sheer size and influence as the nation’s premier public research university, is again poised to play an outsize role in the future of standardized testing in America as its leaders consider whether to drop both the SAT and ACT as an admissions requirement.

Although the standardized tests are predictive of college performance, particularly at selective universities, they are increasingly seen as an unfair admission barrier to students who don’t test well or don’t have the means to access or pay for pricey test preparation. Decades of research has shown that scores are strongly influenced by family income, parents’ education and race.

The looming question is how UC officials will move to address the clearly documented flaws of the test. If they choose to throw out the SAT and the ACT, another popular test, will they find a better replacement?


UC regents are not expected to make a decision until next year. But an extraordinary and unscripted exchange about 2 hours and 25 minutes into a recent meeting revealed the enormous stakes, deep passions and growing impatience surrounding the issue.

UC Academic Senate members, to whom the regents long ago delegated authority to set admissions criteria, launched a study this year on whether to continue requiring standardized testing. Applicants could still take the test and choose to self-report scores, but the UC system would join about 1,000 other universities nationwide as test-optional.


One possible alternative: using Smarter Balanced, a test used in California and more than a dozen other states to assess how well K-12 students have mastered English and math skills required by standards known as Common Core.


It is unclear, however, whether student performance on Smarter Balanced would change if it turned into a high-stakes college admission test, and such a sea change in UC testing policy would require much advance planning.

Other options include keeping standardized tests but controlling for the socioeconomic effects on scores. {snip}

UC San Diego, for instance, admitted African Americans, Mexican Americans and low-income students with average SAT scores about 300 points lower than Asian Americans, whites and high-income students for fall 2016. First-generation students were admitted with scores about 200 points lower than those whose parents attended college.

Although California’s Proposition 209 banned the use of race or ethnicity in admissions decisions, schools may evaluate test scores in the context of other factors, including an applicant’s family income and high school quality. UC considers 14 factors in its admissions decisions.

Kurlaender’s study and several others have found that high school GPA is the single strongest predictor of college success with the lowest negative effect on students who are low-income, underrepresented minorities or the first in their families to attend college.


ACT spokesman Ed Colby said its scores not only predict college success but also provide a common, standardized metric that allows colleges to compare students with widely different sources of information across a range of states and high schools. {snip}

But the test-optional movement is accelerating, with 47 more schools joining in the last 12 months, double the number over last year, said Bob Schaeffer, public education director for FairTest, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing.

A major study last year found students who did not submit test scores were often admitted at lower rates and had modestly lower high school and cumulative college GPAs than those who submitted. But the graduation rates were comparable. The study also found that test-optional policies attracted more applicants of greater diversity, although Colby said other studies have shown otherwise.