Story by Larry Altman
The University of California Board of Regents voted unanimously Thursday to eliminate ACT and SAT exams as admissions requirements, setting aside the controversial tests that many believe favor the wealthy and are biased against minority and low-income students.
In a unanimous 23-0 decision that could change admissions requirements for colleges across the country, the board approved UC President Janet Napolitano’s plan to create a new UC admissions test by 2025 or, if that does not happen, end the exam requirement altogether in an effort to improve diversity in one of the the largest college systems in the nation.
“These tests are extremely flawed and extremely unfair,” said California Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, one of the regents. “This has been so evident for so long. We are the first body to tackle this head on and to say enough is enough.”
Although some major universities across the United States have already dropped the ACT and SAT tests for admission, the massive UC system’s decision to shift from them could take the lead to end a college requirement in existence for decades, one that students, their parents and their grandparents shared in common.
It also could spell doom for the college exam business. The College Board, which administers the SAT, grossed $1 billion in 2018, almost $400 million coming from their SAT “Suite of Assessments,” including test-taking and career-planning classes. The College Board earned $94 million after expenses, tax records show.
In a statement following the decision, the College Board said “Regardless of what happens with such policies, our mission remains the same: to give all students, and especially low-income and first-generation students, opportunities to show their strength.
“We must also address the disparities in coursework and classrooms that the evidence shows most drive inequity in California.”
The vote Thursday continues a March decision to suspend the test requirement for fall 2021 though 2022 applications because COVID-19 restrictions prevented many students from taking the exams.
According to the board’s decision:
- Campuses may still use ACT/SAT scores in considering admission for students who submitted them for fall 2021 and 2022.
- Beginning in fall 2023 and ending with fall 2024, campuses will become “test blind,” not considering test scores for selection for students in California public and independent high schools.
- Through 2024, students may submit ACT/SAT scores but only for course placement, eligibility for a statewide admission guarantee and scholarships consideration.
- By 2025, the ACT/SAT will be eliminated for California students and a new UC-based test will be required.
- If no test is available, the test requirement will be ended for California students.
During a discussion that lasted six hours, some regents wanted the move to occur immediately, but Napolitano said her proposal for a five-year transition to a new test allowed for six months to study how that would happen and who would write it. Napolitano said she also was compromising between proponents of completely eliminating admissions tests to faculty who wanted to keep the ACT/SAT requirement but add assessments specific for the UC system, .
Napolitano said a study by faculty did not persuade her that the value of using the test scores in the application process was enough to “counteract the correlations between the SAT and ACT to the socioeconomic level of the student and in some cases the ethnicity of the student.”
Eight months ago, lawyers for the Compton Unified School District and other groups threatened to sue the University of California, alleging the tests discriminated against low-income, disabled and minority students.
As SoCal Connected reported in January, universities across the country began dropping the ACT and SAT requirements after research has shown tests scores are not necessarily tied to students’ aptitude, but to their family’s income and race. In the documentary, “Under Pressure,” SoCal Collected showed how wealthy students attend classes to prepare for SAT exams and employ college advisers, while low-income and many minority students receive little to no help.
A college admissions scandal last year exacerbated the disparities between rich and poor. On Thursday, “Full House” actress Lori Loughlin and her fashion designer husband, Mossimo Giannulli, agreed to a plea deal in the so-called “Varsity Blues” scandal in which dozens of wealthy parents paid off college officials and used a “ringer” to take SAT exams to help their children get into major universities.
Loughlin, whose scheme involved USC, will be sentenced on Friday to two months in prison, 100 hours of community service and to pay a $150,000 fine. Giannulli will get five months in prison, a $250,000 fine and 250 hours of community service, the U.S. Attorney’s Office said in a statement. Each will then spend two year under supervised release.
Loughlin and Giannulli are the 23rd and 24th parents to plead guilty in the case.
During Thursday’s Board of Regents meeting, the members spent hours listening to various reports and studies done on the value of keeping or eliminating the college admissions exams.
The focus centered on diversity and whether the exams favor wealthy students and negatively impact communities of color, especially students from inadequate schools.
UC Riverside Associate Professor Eddie Comeaux, co-chair of the UC’s Academic Council’s Standardized Testing Task Force, told the panel that “standardized tests tend to be associated with one’s level of privilege and wealth at times inherited at birth.”
“SAT’s, in particular, have encountered fierce criticisms for favoring the wealthy since the 1940s,” Comeaux said. “There are advantages for students who take the tests from affluent families. In addition, most measures of college preparedness — for example a through g completion – are affected by generations of structural racism and other forms of oppression. And it is not surprising that minority students from vulnerable communities tend to perform worse on these measures.”
Napolitano, who is set to retire in August, told the regents that she hopes the admissions process can be improved, including strengthening what happens in high schools and “how they deliver A-G requirements for UC and CSU applicants.” Those guidelines require students to take certain courses – including English, math, history and other subjects – to meet UC and California State University demands.
Although the measure received a unanimous vote, regent Jonathan “Jay” Sures, co-president of United Talent Agency, said that while he believed the SAT is a “racist test,” he was concerned about spending millions of dollars on a new exam. He suggested waiting a year with the COVID-19 suspension “so we can see what happens to the University of California’s diversity” without SAT tests.
Regent Sherry Lansing, a former Hollywood studio executive, said she feared a new test could have the same problems as the current ones. She supported Sures motion to wait a year.
But other members wanted to end the discussion. Chair John Perez, a former state Assemblyman, said the move was 43 years in the making.
“I think this is an incredible step in the right direction,” Perez said.
In its statement in response, the College Board said the plan would burden students wanting to apply to schools outside of California with a litany of admissions tests to take, including the ew UC exam, the SAT and/or ACT, and the SBAC.
“Having to take multiple tests will likely cause many of these students to limit their college options much earlier in the college search process or to take multiple college entrance tests,” the statement said.
The College Board said about 56,000 California students use the SAT to apply to and enroll in out-of-state colleges. Colleges outside of California, the statement said, receive more applications from California High School graduates than either UC or CSU.