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The SAT & ACT Are Causing Controversy in California

If you need a break from impeachment news and college decisions, there is a new admissions case brewing. A lawsuit was filed last week on behalf of four students, six nonprofit organizations, and a school district in California alleging that the University of California's use of standardized tests in the admissions process is a barrier for underrepresented minorities and students with disabilities.

It is hard to know if this case has staying power, but it resurrects a decades-long debate about the merits of the SAT and ACT.

If there is any major university system that would eliminate the SAT or ACT from the selection process it would be the University of California. Key administrators, including members of the Academic Senate, the current chancellor of the University of Berkeley, the current provost of the UC, and the past president of the UC, have all expressed their concern about the reliance on standardized tests.
 
Anyone looking into the world of college admissions would acknowledge how powerful the list of testing critics is with firsthand knowledge of the admissions process and the impact it has on the student body at the University of California's ten campuses.


Related Reading: The Cowards and Heroes of the SAT and ACT



Yet the complaint was filed against the Regents of the University of California. These individuals are political appointees who have donated generously to campaigns. They are not admissions experts, nor are they working one-on-one with students applying to or attending the UC system. However, they dictate the admissions process for the largest university system in the country.
 

If you want to know what I'm thinking, here it is, candid as usual:

  • No matter what admissions officers say, standardized tests play a bigger role in the admissions process than families think. 
  • Even before the application is read, the admissions officer takes a quick look at the student's test scores to determine how competitive the student is. This dictates how much time they spend reading the application. Lower test scores can equal less time spent on the application. 
  • Because the UC system does not factor race into the admissions process, students from underrepresented backgrounds can easily be pushed aside simply based on their test scores.
  • Since race-blind admissions has been implemented at the UC, the percentage of students of color is on the decline
  • The UC system is one of only a handful of colleges requiring the SAT with Essay or the ACT with Writing. These two tests are more expensive than the more popular SAT and ACT, thus generating more profits for the College Board and the ACT.
  • In addition to requiring the more expensive tests, the UC wants official score reports from the College Board and the ACT. Each score report costs money as well. More and more colleges are no longer requiring official score reports for admission, and only asking for them upon enrollment in order to cut down costs for students and families. The UC is doing the opposite of what is on trend.
    READ MORE: Ten Secrets for Reporting Test Scores to Colleges
  • Students from low income and underrepresented backgrounds struggle to receive competent and reasonably priced test preparation for the SAT and ACT.

It is hard to predict what will happen with this lawsuit. However, one thing is clear: Standardized tests dictate admissions decisions at every single college in the country that requires them. If the UC system is forced to eliminate them from its admissions process, the College Board and the ACT will lose a significant stake in the industry and see profits diminish as well.
 
It begs the question whether the UC system is complicit with these testing agencies to rack up costs at the expense of our kids. The Regents need to do what is right for their students. This lawsuit paves the way for a process which will demand more time of the UC admissions officers, yet it may finally represent the original mission of the university: to teach, to research, and to provide public service for all.