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UC Permanently Nixes Standardized Tests As Admissions Criteria

Looking out over the quad at UCLA with students walking and talking in groups.
Stock image: UCLA campus.
(David McNew/Getty Images)
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Standardized test scores will no longer be required for admission to the University of California after a decision Thursday from the UC's governing board. The decision makes permanent, for the foreseeable future, earlier board decisions and a court ruling that put a temporary pause on using test scores as one of the criteria for admissions.

UC Permanently Nixes Standardized Tests As Admissions Criteria

"UC will continue to practice test-free admissions now and into the future," UC Provost Michael Brown said at Thursday's meeting of the UC Board of Regents.

Critics of standardized tests have long argued that they exacerbate inequalities in access to higher education, privileging students who can afford private test prep services, among other concerns.

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While UC schools will not use standardized tests to make admissions decisions or award scholarships, such tests may still be used for placement purposes.

No Feasible Alternative

The board had convened an academic study group to assess whether an alternative test could be developed, or whether the state's Smarter Balanced Assessment could be used for university admission criteria as an alternative to the SAT or ACT. But the group concluded that neither option was feasible.

Study group co-chair and UC Riverside professor Mary Gauvain told the regents that converting the 11th grade Smarter Balanced assessment into a UC admissions test "would add only modest incremental value beyond high school GPA in predicting college first-year grades" and that it would likely reflect and reproduce "inequality and opportunity gaps in the K-12 system that could, in turn, disadvantage students in lower-income and underrepresented groups."

It's monumental not just here but for students of color all across the nation.
— Alexis Atsilvsgi Zaragoza

Gauvain also said using Smarter Balanced for university admissions would likely spawn a new test prep industry that would exacerbate social inequities.

Regent Alexis Atsilvsgi Zaragoza, a student at UC Berkeley, noted the likely impact the decision from the hugely influential UC system would have on college admissions across the country.

"It's monumental not just here but for students of color all across the nation," she said.

More than 1,800 U.S. colleges and universities have either eliminated standardized test scores as an admissions requirement or made them optional for Fall 2022 admissions, according to the National Center for Fair and Open Testing. The move away from standardized tests started well before the pandemic, but was accelerated as testing centers closed down out of health and safety concerns and students were stuck at home.

Will Applicant Pool Change?

UC leaders have said the system had a more diverse applicant pool last year and admitted a more diverse 2020 class than in the past. But the percentage of freshman applications received from underrepresented groups — Black, Latino, Native American and Pacific Islander students — as a percentage of the total applicant pool remained the same as in the past two years, at 45%.

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Admissions of students from these groups rose from 40% in 2019 to 43% in 2021, according to preliminary data.

Miguel Dominguez, director of education and youth policy at Community Coalition, which was involved with one of the lawsuits against UC over standardized tests, said he expected the regents' decision to abandon the tests for good would have a positive impact for students of color and for those from under-resourced schools and communities.

He also said the pandemic had provided an opportunity to rethink other barriers that make it difficult for these students to get to college.

"I don't think we're at that point yet where students are seen as their whole selves," he said. "We have a really great opportunity right now to think about, 'How do we do better for high-needs communities?' … and not only invest more into those students but really invest more into the power and type of decision-making that our students and parents can have."

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