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The UC System plans to phase out the SAT and ACT—and other schools may follow suit

The coronavirus pandemic has forced schools to shut their doors and forced The College Board, the organization that administers the SAT and ACT exams to cancel and postpone testing dates.

In response, many colleges announced they would temporarily not require students to submit standardized test scores. Now, some schools are starting to make the temporary decision permanent. 

On April 1, The University of California college system, which enrolls some 280,000 college students each year, announced that it will not require standardized testing for students hoping to start college in the fall of 2021. Then on May 22, the school system’s Board of Regents unanimously voted to permanently phase out the use of the SAT and ACT tests at its 10 schools. 

“Today’s decision by the Board marks a significant change for the University’s undergraduate admissions,” said UC president Janet Napolitano. “We are removing the ACT/SAT requirement for California students and developing a new test that more closely aligns with what we expect incoming students to know to demonstrate their preparedness for UC.”

When asked about the trend of schools going test-optional during a March call with the press, The College Board’s chief executive officer David Coleman said “we support schools totally in whatever flexibility they decide.”

According to plans laid out by administrators, UC schools will have the option to use ACT/SAT test scores during the fall 2021 and fall 2022 admissions years, adopting what is typically known as a test-optional policy.

Though test scores may still be considered for other purposes such as course placement and certain scholarships, schools will not consider test scores for Californian applicants during the fall 2023 and fall 2024 admissions years, known as test-blind. 

“By 2025, any use of the ACT/SAT would be eliminated for California students,” reads the plan. Administrators are still coordinating how to phase out ACT/SAT testing for non-California residents.

The University of California’s timeline for phasing out the SAT and ACT

Courtesy of The University of California

As the largest university system in the country and boasting some of the U.S.’s most respected public universities, such as UC Berkeley and UCLA, many expect other schools to join the trend.

“I expect other universities to follow suit,” says Danielle Babb, contributing professor at UC Berkeley and UC Irvine in a statement sent to CNBC Make It. “Universities are going to have to look at their own internal metrics to determine which critical success factors have enabled students to persist in their program and end up moving into gainful employment after graduation.”

To be sure, test-optional policies have become increasingly common over the past several years. For instance the University of Chicago, Bowdoin College and DePauw University have all moved away from requiring that applicants take standardized tests.

“There’s already been a trend towards test-optional because more and more schools are recognizing some of the problems with standardized testing and some of the bias in there,” Jeremy Alder founder and managing editor of College Consensus tells CNBC Make It. “I think this could definitely accelerate that trend.” 

Indeed, researchers have found that wealthy students perform better on the SAT compared to their lower-income peers. 

In a paper titled, “Race, Poverty and SAT Scores,” researchers Ezekiel Dixon-Roman from the University of Pennsylvania and John Mcardle from the University of Southern California found that wealthy students earn higher SAT scores compared to their low-income peers and that the difference in SAT scores between high- and low-income students was twice as large among black students compared to white students.

Others say that standardized testing is one of the more objective measures currently at schools disposal for assessing student achievement and potential.

“Standardized tests can level the playing field for low-income and rural college applicants,” writes Rich Saunders for the Chronicle of Higher Education. “Making those tests optional may blunt that benefit.”

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