Posted on November 23, 2021

UC Slams the Door on Standardized Admissions Tests, Nixing Any SAT Alternative

Teresa Watanabe, Los Angeles Times, November 18, 2021

The University of California has slammed the door shut on using any standardized test for admissions decisions, announcing Thursday that faculty could find no alternative exam that would avoid the biased results that led leaders to scrap the SAT last year.

UC Provost Michael Brown declared the end of testing for admissions decisions at a Board of Regents meeting, putting a conclusive end to more than three years of research and debate in the nation’s premier public university system on whether standardized testing does more harm than good when assessing applicants for admission.

“UC will continue to practice test-free admissions now and into the future,” Brown said to the regents, during a discussion about a possible alternative to the SAT and ACT tests.

Testing supporters argue that standardized assessments provide a uniform measure to predict the college performance of students from varied schools and backgrounds. But UC ultimately embraced opposing arguments that high school grades are a better tool without the biases based on race, income and parent education levels found in tests.

Given UC’s size and influence, the prolonged debate was closely followed nationally as a harbinger of the future of standardized testing in admissions. Its decision to permanently drop testing requirements is likely to embolden other campuses to do likewise and accelerate the national movement to seek more equitable ways to assess a student’s potential to succeed in college.

“When you have the most prestigious university system in the nation’s most populous state functioning without test scores and developing ways to do admissions fairly and accurately without them, it’s very significant,” said Bob Schaeffer, executive director of FairTest: National Center for Fair & Open Testing. “UC already is and increasingly will become a national model for test-free admissions.”

He said the number of campuses that don’t require test scores for admission has increased to 1,815 today from 1,075 two years ago — in part due to the difficulty of securing appointments for SAT and ACT tests during the pandemic. The share of students who submitted test scores to the Common Application, a consortium of 900 public and private colleges, fell to 43% in the 2020-21 admission season compared with 77% in 2019-20.

It’s unclear how many institutions will remain test-optional beyond the pandemic. And UC’s decision does not spell the end of SAT and ACT testing in California. Los Angeles Unified, the nation’s second largest school district, still administers the test to its high school students and counselors advise them to take it to maximize opportunities to apply to other colleges.


Brown’s declaration culminated an often-contentious process kicked off in July 2018 when then-UC President Janet Napolitano asked the Academic Senate to review how UC uses the tests and whether any changes were necessary given the university’s efforts to expand access amid unprecedented growth in demand.

After a year of study, faculty leaders recommended in February 2020 that UC continue using the exams for admissions, citing data in a highly anticipated report showing that standardized tests may actually help boost enrollment of disadvantaged students.

But that controversial conclusion set off a flurry of countervailing pressures, including a report attacking the faculty recommendations. In May 2020, the regents ultimately voted to eliminate SAT and ACT testing requirements.

Meanwhile, the Compton Unified School District and several students and community organizations had filed two lawsuits in 2018 alleging that the SAT requirements violated their civil rights — and an Alameda County Superior Court judge agreed, ordering UC to suspend them in September 2020, six months after the regent’s decision.