Since the University of California System decided Thursday to no longer use standardized test scores for undergraduate admissions, proponents of the decision say it's a big win for high school students who will have greater access to college.
The UC System is a public university that includes nine undergraduate college campuses throughout California instructing more than 226,000 undergraduate students.
As a counselor at Centennial High School in Corona, California, Josh Godinez called the UC system’s decision to get rid of undergraduate standardized testing a moment of celebration. Godinez is also the board chair for the California Association of School Counselors.
When the system made entrance exams optional in May 2020 in response to pandemic challenges, Godinez said he noticed more of his students wanted to apply to UC System schools. That shift made him realize standardized testing discourages students who lack confidence or skill in testing from applying to certain colleges. These are students who are likely strong applicants regarding grades and extracurriculars, too, Godinez said.
“Once the UC got rid of [testing requirements] during the pandemic, some of the kids said ‘now I feel like I have a chance,’” Godinez said.
The UC System also admitted the most diverse and largest undergraduate class in its history for fall 2021, the Los Angeles Times reported.
The pandemic spurred a lot of colleges and universities to temporarily shift to test-optional admissions policies as many SAT and ACT testing sites closed. More than 76% of all U.S. bachelor-degree institutions now offer test-optional or test-blind admissions for fall 2022, and that trend is expected to continue into fall 2023, according to National Center for Fair and Open Testing (FairTest).
ACT pushes back
The UC System decision could deal another major blow to testing providers, as experts expect it to influence more permanent decisions about testing among other large universities and colleges nationwide. K-12 districts have said they’re keeping a watchful eye this fall to see if the trend toward dropping standardized tests sticks.
While advocates for limited testing say the UC System’s move is one toward greater equity and access for high school students, ACT disagreed. In an emailed statement, ACT said abandoning long-standing and objective assessments like the ACT creates an opportunity for more subjectivity and uncertainty in the admissions process.
“This week’s decision is likely to worsen entrenched inequities and dim the prospects for students from underrepresented populations, in California and beyond, to attend schools in the UC System,” the statement said.
The College Board, which administers the SAT, did not immediately respond to a request to comment Friday.
“I know that the SAT and ACT are very well-intentioned and do everything in their power in order to provide equity for students, but does that go far enough,” Godinez asked. “I think what the UC just did with their research is say, ‘No, it didn’t.’”
Godinez added the cost of helping students improve test scores through prep classes and books has contributed to an inequitable playing field for high school students applying to college.
A “win-win” for colleges, high school students
Not only does the UC System’s decision create more equitable application access to college, it could also help lessen the pressure on high school students to take the ACT and SAT in the future, said Bob Schaeffer, executive director of FairTest.
“High school students and their parents bear all the costs, both emotional and financial,” Schaeffer said. “It’s a win-win for colleges as well as for high school students. Colleges [are] facing more applicants, better applicants … more diversity.”
Dave Evangelisti, CEO of Test-guide.com, said he understands both students’ and test prep companies’ perspectives in the UC System decision. Test-guide.com is a free test prep provider.
For Evangelisti, it's important for colleges and universities to take consistent stances on considering standardized tests in admissions. He said an institution should either completely ignore test scores or consider them for all students.
In cases where submitting test scores are optional, Evangelisti said, it’s confusing for high school students to know whether their test score will hurt or help their application compared to their peers.
“You either need to require them or not require them. Having them be test-optional is kind of muddying the waters for everyone,” Evangelisti said. “It just adds more stress to the college admissions process, which is already stressful enough.