University of California votes to end standardised tests

UC plans four years without requirement while it tries to write its own test

May 22, 2020
Source: iStock

The University of California’s governing board voted unanimously to phase out the use of commercial standardised testing in its admissions processes, calling the move a critical step to promote equity.

In a decision widely expected to set a model for institutions nationwide, the UC system agreed to suspend SAT and ACT testing requirements through 2024, with the expectation of eliminating them altogether.

The time until then will be used to develop a new state-specific test “that better aligns with the content the university expects students to have mastered for college readiness”, the 280,000-student system said in its announcement.

If UC cannot develop a new test by then, it will eliminate any standardised testing requirement for California students and make a decision about how to assess applicants from outside the state.

“This is an incredible step in the right direction,” the chairman of the UC Board of Regents, John Pérez, a former speaker of the California State Assembly and son of Mexican immigrants, said ahead of the vote.

The action caps a long-running debate within the UC system on whether to join more than 1,000 other colleges and universities that have already dropped standardised exams.

Much of the opposition to such tests has centred on evidence that they favour wealthier students who are better able to prepare for them, thereby worsening income-based and racial divides in higher education.

Yet the moves come as both the testing companies and universities have increased their awareness of that problem, and the institutions have boosted their reliance on multiple methods of assessment, to the point where some advocates of low-income students have argued that testing requirements may help them.

The chancellor of UC-Riverside campus, Kim Wilcox, has argued that standardised tests have not harmed, and in some cases helped, his recruitment and stewardship of a student body that is predominantly Hispanic and Asian.

Ahead of the 23-0 vote by the regents in favour of the proposal from the UC system’s president, Janet Napolitano, the UC Academic Senate had voted 51-0 in February to keep the SAT and ACT testing requirements while the alternatives are developed.

While UC will no longer use the SAT and ACT tests in admissions processes, the system said that its campuses could still use the tests for purposes that include course placement and scholarships.

UC had already decided last month to suspend the testing requirement in admissions for one year because of complications related to the coronavirus pandemic.

The university system, in its announcement of the regents’ vote, said it expects to develop a new assessment measure that “improves educational quality and equity in California”.

The College Board, which produces the SAT, said that despite UC's decision, it would continue its efforts to make the test as fair as possible to students of all economic circumstances.

In a statement, the College Board also said that many California students would continue to take the SAT to prepare for out-of-state applications. It also suggested that institutions in other states may see a decline in applications from California students if they continue to use the SAT.

paul.basken@timeshighereducation.com

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