On Wednesday, California State University, the largest four-year university system in the U.S., became the latest to drop standardized testing. The Board of Trustees voted unanimously to end the use of the SAT and ACT tests in the admissions process.
The move follows the lead of the University of California system, which ended the practice in 2020 and spawned a national debate over the relevance and equity of the tests. The two systems educate approximately 772,000 students, and testing was already temporarily suspended due to the pandemic.
Acting Chancellor Steve Relyea released a statement saying the decision “levels the playing field” and provides more opportunity for admission for “students from all backgrounds.” Relyea added the “high-stress, high-stakes test(s)” provide little benefit and their elimination ensures greater opportunities.
Bob Schaeffer of FairTest, a Boston-based group that advocates for ending standardized testing, says the move by California universities will “set the standard for public higher education across the nation.”
Critics have charged for years that the tests are discriminatory against disadvantaged students who have less access to tools for improving their scores. They argue that wealthier families can afford expensive test preparation courses or even tutors to boost their children’s marks.
Replacing the SAT and ACT as admission factors are high school grade point averages, leadership positions, extracurricular activities and personal traits such as being first-generation college students or graduating from a school with high numbers of low-income students.
ACT said the move will likely be a detriment to students and cause “greater uncertainty and subjectivity” into the process. It also removes a valuable tool in determining root causes of inequities, according to the testing company.
Advocates for standardized testing assert they have multiple benefits for incoming students. Besides being a uniform and objective method of determining college readiness, the score may balance out areas where the applicant is not as strong. The tests are a valuable tool, advocates believe, for showing what a student is capable of achieving even if their high school performance was not as strong as they’d like.
California, for better or worse, is a reliable indicator for societal changes that will spread to other parts of the country. Its moves to completely eliminate standardized tests in college admissions will further the debate over their fairness and how colleges will decide who to admit.