University of California schools are dropping SAT and ACT from admissions

Ron Kroichick, San Francisco Chronicle

The University of California Board of Regents, in a landmark move that could reshape the college admissions process across the country, voted Thursday to drop the SAT and ACT testing requirement.

The unanimous decision, after hours of spirited debate in a teleconference meeting, adopted UC President Janet Napolitano’s proposal made last week. Napolitano recommended that UC make standardized tests optional for two years, then become “test blind” for two years.

Students applying to UC schools in the fall of 2021 or 2022 will have the option of submitting test scores for admissions. Those who choose not to provide scores will not be penalized.

Then, in 2023 and 2024, the system will not use scores as a factor in admission decisions. Students still could submit scores for scholarship or course-placement purposes. In 2025, UC will either replace the SAT and ACT with a new, UC-specific admissions test or eliminate the longtime testing requirements altogether.

Thursday’s move punctuated years of contentiousness surrounding the issue of standardized testing. Most notably, colleges faced growing pressure from critics who pointed to numerous studies suggesting standardized tests discriminate against minority and low-income students.

Several regents cited those concerns in voicing their support for phasing out the SAT and ACT at one of the nation’s biggest and most visible public university systems. UC operates 10 campuses and serves about 285,000 students.

“We really are the first body to tackle this head on and say, ‘Enough is enough,’” said Regent Eleni Kounalakis, the state’s lieutenant governor. “It’s exciting for American education.”

Nearly 1,200 schools nationwide, including those in the UC system, previously dropped the standardized testing requirement for 2021 because of the coronavirus pandemic. The pandemic had forced the College Board (which operates the SAT) and ACT to cancel tests this spring.

In a related matter, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Brad Seligman, in a ruling made public Tuesday, said UC can be sued for allegedly discriminating against low-income, minority and disabled applicants by mandating the SAT and ACT as an admissions requirement.

Napolitano repeated her preference to develop a new test to use in the admissions process, but she was adamant about the shortcomings of the Scholastic Aptitude Test and the American College Testing exam.

“The right test is better than no test,” Napolitano said, “but a flawed test should not continue to be required.”

UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ was among those speaking out against the standardized testing requirement during Thursday’s meeting.

“I’ve been convinced of the research that shows the correlation with socioeconomic status,” Christ said. “I’m also dismayed by the anxieties created by the testing culture.”

Napolitano’s recommendation, and the board’s action, did not entirely mesh with recommendations of the Standardized Testing Task Force, which released a 228-page report in February. That report found UC’s current admissions process does not discriminate and actually “protects the admission eligibility of the very populations about whom there is concern.”

The Academic Senate, in approving the report, also suggested UC keep the tests for five years and then “revisit whether the added value of the SAT/ACT still holds.”

Advocates for standardized tests argued that dropping them could exacerbate other issues — such as grade inflation and a variance in high school curriculum — in the admissions process. The College Board struck this note in a statement released after Thursday’s vote.

“Regardless of what happens with such policies, our mission remains the same: to give all students, and especially low-income and first-generation students, opportunities to show their strength,” the statement read. “We must also address the disparities in coursework and classrooms that the evidence shows most drive inequity in California.”

The UC board rejected by an 18-5 vote an amendment brought by Regent Jonathan Sures, who sought to limit Thursday’s move to the first two years of Napolitano’s proposal. Sures wanted to review how changing admissions guidelines to “test optional” affected diversity at UC campuses.

After the amendment failed, the board voted 23-0 to approve Napolitano’s proposal.

Ron Kroichick is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email:


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