Posted on May 13, 2020

SAT Should Be Suspended for UC Admissions, Napolitano Says

Teresa Watanabe, Los Angeles Times, May 11, 2020

In a decision that could lead to a shake-up of the nation’s standardized testing landscape, University of California President Janet Napolitano is recommending the suspension of the SAT and ACT tests as an admissions requirement until 2024 and possible elimination after that.

In a proposal posted Monday, Napolitano is recommending a complex and unusual five-year plan that would make the tests optional for two years and eliminate testing requirements for California students in Years 3 and 4. Then, in Year 5, UC would move toward a standardized assessment developed specifically for the 10-campus system.

The plan would produce rich data on which students get admitted under each strategy and how they perform in college. It could also widen access to a UC education for more disadvantaged students. But the recommendation raises concerns about how campuses would implement different entry standards for different classes.

Napolitano’s decision could tip the scales against the tests among Board of Regents members, who are scheduled to vote on the controversial issue next week.

Her plan is not completely in line with the Academic Senate, which recently voted unanimously to keep the tests for five years while alternatives are researched. But Senate Chair Kum-Kum Bhavnani expressed appreciation that Napolitano adopted many key recommendations in a faculty task force report on testing, including development of a new assessment for the UC system.

“The Senate is pleased that the president’s recommendations are in line with the spirit of our recommendations,” Bhavnani said. “We look forward to working with the university to develop a new content-based test.”

Most campus admission officers, however, regard SAT and ACT scores as useful tools to help assess applicants and will be left with the task of figuring out how to evaluate tens of thousands of applications without them.

The UC system has temporarily suspended the testing requirement for fall 2021 applicants due to test cancellations triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic. But campuses were expected to reinstate the requirement for subsequent admission cycles after ACT and the College Board, which owns the SAT, announced plans to restart testing later this year.

A UC decision to permanently drop the testing requirements would have an enormous impact on the future of standardized testing because of the size and prestige of the public research university. Four-fifths of UC applicants take the SAT, making the system the largest single university source of customers for the College Board.


Critics argue that the SAT and ACT are heavily influenced by race, income and education levels of parents; question their value in predicting college success and express concern about inequitable access to test prep. Those concerns have prompted more than 1,000 colleges and universities to drop the testing requirement. A lawsuit against the UC system also calls for the requirement to be dropped.

But the College Board and ACT have strongly pushed back, saying the tests are not biased and reflect existing inequities in access to quality education. They also say that standardized tests offer a uniform and useful yardstick for use, in tandem with grades, in assessing students in high schools across the country.


Napolitano also asked faculty leaders for additional analysis about the reasons why UC students do not fully reflect the state’s diversity. In its February review, the task force found that the biggest reasons for the mismatch was not the SAT, but that smaller proportions of disadvantaged students took the full suite of required college preparatory courses and applied to UC.

In what it called surprising findings, the Academic Senate’s review found that the SAT test actually helps disadvantaged students gain entry to the selective UC system. That’s because the way UC uses standardized test scores substantially corrects for bias by weighting them less heavily than grades and considering them as only one of 14 factors in a comprehensive review process, the report found. Campuses adjust for socioeconomic differences and admit disadvantaged students with lower test scores compared to more advantaged peers.

Other researchers, however, have criticized the task force’s findings as erroneous. Some faculty members are pushing to replace the SAT and ACT with the state test used to assess K-12 students, known as Smarter Balanced, because they say research shows it predicts college performance equally well, with less bias against disadvantaged students.