The Fate of the SAT and ACT in California: Hanging in the Balance

College entrance exams, namely the SAT and ACT, are back in the news. It’s been rapid fire over the last year. First was the Varsity Blues scandal (when wealthy parents were hiring tutors for their children to replace or correct SAT tests, among other nefarious activities). Then came the announcement from ACT that they will allow students to retake one section of the test at a time as of September 2020 (yet another barrier for those who can’t afford private tutoring or to pay multiple standardized testing fees).

This time, it is in the form of a complaint filed in California by Public Counsel, a pro bono law firm representing students, families, public school systems and advocacy groups. The complaint stipulates that college entrance exams are, “illegal, unconstitutional and discriminatory” because they are not predictive of college success. Citing research that links SAT scores to family income, the plaintiffs argue that the tests discriminate on the basis of wealth and race.

It appears that key figures in the University of California system agree that the SAT and ACT are inaccurate indicators for school success. Chancellors of UC Berkeley and UC Santa Cruz have even vocalized their disillusionment with the requirement. With one foot out the door, UC President Janet Napolitano appointed a faculty task force to study the issue (their report is due out this spring). Of course, the for-profit College Board (who administers the SAT) and ACT claim their tests are not biased.

Why is this lawsuit important? University of California is the largest system in the country, with more than 280,000 students on ten campuses. If they drop the SAT/ACT requirement, willingly or by force, others will soon follow. The test optional movement is already on the rise. Close to 50 colleges in 2019 alone have joined a consortium of 1,000 test optional schools across the country.

What, then, will replace testing as a standard metric of evaluation? That’s the question that stops the test optional movement in its tracks. It can’t be a student’s transcript, can it? Rigor and grading vary from school to school. And a “holistic review” of every application is well-intentioned until you meet a member of the UCLA admissions team reviewing more than 135,000 applications annually! Not to mention, the number of applications continue to rise with the globalization of our education system and the use of the Common App.

What can you do as families immersed in the college process? Hold the course. These changes won’t happen overnight. As educational counselors, we will continue to help your children navigate the ever-changing standardized testing requirements. We recognize that each student has a different testing path and it is our job to find the route that works best for them.

There is no question that the college admissions landscape is fallible, and it is clear that standardized testing is a significant problem. But is it the only reason for inequity in the college application system? In the meantime, we will all wait to see what happens next in California—and beyond.

About The Author

Susanna Beckwith, MALS