Will University of California dump SAT and ACT? Not yet

SAT and ACT scores, though sometimes unfair, remain more reliable than grade-point averages, UC faculty report says
By: | February 6, 2020
The SAT and ACT face an uncertain future as colleges admissions tests in California. (Ben Mullins/Unsplash)The SAT and ACT face an uncertain future as colleges admissions tests in California. (Ben Mullins/Unsplash)

A highly anticipated report says the University of California should continue to require applicants to submit an SAT or ACT score but should also work toward revamping the current admissions testing process, with an eye toward greater equity, according to U.S. News and World Report.

The report, by the UC Academic Senate, acknowledged that the SAT and ACT can be unfair for poor students and students of color, but its authors also mapped out a decade-long process for developing a new college admissions test.

The report found that the SAT and ACT remain better predictors of college success than grade-point averages because of grade inflation and varying grading standards at California’s high schools, according to U.S. News and World Report.


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As far as equity, the report recommended that UC  expand a program that guarantees admission to the top 9% of graduates from each high school in the state, while also reviewing the SAT and ACT for potentially discriminatory questions, CalMatters reported.

But the report did not sway testing critics, such as Mark Rosenbaum, an attorney for Public Counsel, which is suing UC over admissions testing. Rosenbaum criticized the report for shifting the blame from UC to California’s public schools, the Lake County Record-Bee reported.

“Rather than blame California’s students, their families and communities, and their teachers, the university should eliminate all reliance on these discriminatory and meaningless tests, and instead work with the state K-12 system to whatever degree necessary to fulfill UC’s mandate to build a student body that reflects the broad diversity of the state,” Rosenbaum told the Record-Bee.

A final decision will be made in May, the Record-Bee reported.

As California deliberates, schools in other states continue to do away with admissions tests. The University of Missouri-Kansas City this week dropped the SAT and ACT as an admission requirement, putting “more emphasis on school involvement, class load and personal essays,” KRCG-TV reported.

“MU uses a sliding scale.” university spokesman Christian Basi told the station. “If you do poorly on a standardized test and you have excellent grades, you will still be admitted to the university.”


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Better predictors of success than SAT and ACT

Admissions staff at test-optional schools have to work harder to evaluate applicants because they have to “dig much deeper” during the process, Angel Perez, vice president of enrollment and student success at Connecticut’s Trinity College, told University Business last year.

Trinity, a selective liberal arts school in Hartford, went test-optional in 2015.

Research shows that while the SAT and ACT are good predictors of first-year GPA, they do not predict whether a student will persist and graduate. The number of advanced-level courses a student takes, curriculum rigor and recommendation letters are better indicators, Perez told UB.

“All of those things, to me, are better predictors of whether students survive in a college classroom than how well they performed on an exam on one particular day,” Perez said.

Robert Schaeffer, public education director at FairTest, told UB that becoming test-optional is not a magic bullet. Increasing recruitment of underrepresented populations and meeting the financial needs of students are still essential.

“Oftentimes, the kids who don’t submit test scores are lower income and may not have had the opportunity for test prep and the other kinds of things that give upper-middle class kids a boost on test-score competition,” Schaeffer told UB.


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