The Tests are Dead; Long Live the Tests

Matt Larriva
May 22, 2020

By Matthew Larriva


Yesterday, the Regents of the University of California voted to phase out the SAT and ACT test over five years. The schools will endeavor to create their own admissions test, designed to eliminate the socioeconomic bias latent in the SAT and  the ACT. 2022 will be the last  year the schools would accept the SAT or ACT as part of an in-state student’s application. The tests, however, would continue to be used for out-of-state students, scholarship qualification, and for application to certain areas of study–likely STEM fields. See the graphic below for a detailed explanation, by year. 

UC Announcement on Test Blind Admissions [7]


While many schools have become testing optional over the last decade, few have become testing blind–rejecting SAT and ACT scores outright. The decision was rapid. The UC system went from requiring the tests, to making the tests optional amid the COVID-19 shutdowns, to eliminating the tests entirely, all in the span of three months. 


Spearheaded by UC president, Janet Napolatano, the UC system will phase out the tests over five years, over which it will develop its own test. There are no details on what will happen in the interim, between the last year the school will accept scores and the first year the school will have its own test. This sharply contradicted a February report provided by a UC-led task force that found the tests were useful in helping the university sift through its hundreds of thousands of applicants. The task force decided the tests did not discriminate more than grades, and that they should be retained as part of an applicant’s submission. 


The UC system made strides toward this end last month, when they made headlines by changing their admissions policies. [1] Students applying to enter in Fall 2021 would no longer be required to submit SAT or ACT scores for admission. This policy change was described as “groundbreaking” [1], but dropping the testing requirement was not unexpected given the ongoing pandemic and cancellation of the tests themselves. A number of other colleges and universities had also opted to make testing optional for students applying for Fall 2021. [2] Even the most competitive schools in the country are open to at least trying out testing-optional admissions. Cornell University was recently the first Ivy League school to announce suspension of the SAT/ACT requirement for applicants. [3]

Those unfamiliar with college admissions might wonder whether the shift towards testing-optional policies was first initiated out of necessity during the COVID-19 outbreak. However, the testing-optional trend started much earlier. At the end of 2015 “46 percent of top-tier liberal arts colleges, and a number of large research universities” [4] had dropped their testing requirements. The logic behind this move tends to revolve around equity: minority students and those who are socioeconomically disadvantaged often underperform on standardized tests.


The COVID-19 pandemic has certainly accelerated a long-moving testing optional trend, but the question now presents: will the SAT and ACT be eliminated from all schools? We posit that all schools will eventually become testing-optional, but that few will become test blind. As one admissions officer noted, “for some students, their best selves may be they are good testers, and we want them to be able to show that to us.” [6] Even the UC schools are not going to become truly test blind: they are merely going to develop their own test. This is understandable, as the UC system requires some standardized metric to aid evaluation of its more-than 170,000 applicants. Consider the case of trying to compare a home-schooled student with an AP Scholar and graduate of Harvard-Westlake. Grade inflation has never been stronger, and the difficulty of comparing an in-state and out-of-state applicant would be impossible without some method of standardization.


The UCs did not provide indication as to how they would seek to create a more equitable test, so for now, all we know is that the UCs intend to introduce a new test to the system. Instead of preparing for the SAT or ACT, students seeking admissions at the UC and non UC schools will now need to prepare for one of those tests plus the UC test. That is, two tests instead of one. Now consider the case of a student applying to 1) a test optional school 2) an UC school and a 3) test-requiring school. The student will need to take how many test in order to apply? Our count is two–in a system that used to only require one. We’re sure that students won’t mind 100% more test-taking, preparation, and time. Besides record levels of coursework, homework, extracurricular pressures, and social stress, what else do they have going on?


As a high school student or parent, this all might seem overwhelming. You might be wondering, should I still prepare for and take the SAT or ACT if my school of choice has adopted a testing-optional admissions policy? What should I do if I’m applying between 2022 and 2025? Tune into our multi-part series to learn which groups of students are helped and which are hurt by testing-optional policies, whom these policies are intended for, and whether you should invest time, effort, and money into taking the SAT or ACT.


References:
[1]https://www.washingtonpost.com/education/2020/04/01/university-california-suspends-admission-testing-requirements-because-coronavirus-pandemic/
[2]https://www.npr.org/sections/coronavirus-live-updates/2020/04/01/825304555/colleges-go-test-optional-after-sat-act-are-called-off
[3]https://www.insidehighered.com/admissions/article/2020/04/27/cornell-and-other-colleges-move-test-optional-admissions
[4]https://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/01/education/edlife/the-test-optional-surge.html
[5]https://www.chronicle.com/article/Will-the-Coronavirus-End-the/248683
[6]https://www.bostonglobe.com/2020/05/01/opinion/colleges-are-making-sat-act-optional-now-will-that-stick/ [7]https://www.universityofcalifornia.edu/press-room/university-california-board-regents-approves-changes-standardized-testing-requirement