Matt's Past SAT/ACT News Update

Matt O'Connor

Dec 12, 2019

The previously-threatened lawsuit alleging that the University of California’s use of the SAT and ACT as part of its admissions process is discriminatory has been filed.

Coverage from several major media outlets is offered below, beginning with The New York Times:


A coalition of students, advocacy groups and a largely black and Hispanic California school district filed suit against the University of California system on Tuesday to stop it from using standardized test scores in its admissions. The move, if successful, could shake up the testing industry and radically reshape college admissions.

The plaintiffs say the college entrance tests, the SAT and ACT, are biased against poor and mainly black and Hispanic students. By basing admissions decisions on those tests, they say, the system illegally discriminates against applicants on the basis of their race, wealth and disability, and denies them equal protection under the California Constitution.

They argue that the use of standardized tests has led to the creation of a vast test-prep industry that privileges affluent families who can afford to send their children to tutoring. Other measures — like grades and teacher recommendations — would provide a fairer way of judging students, the plaintiffs say.

“It is illegal wealth and race discrimination that damages the futures of tens of thousands of deserving students each year, who could excel at U.C. campuses of their choice,” said Mark Rosenbaum, directing attorney at the nonprofit Public Counsel, which is representing some of the plaintiffs.

Supporters of the tests say they provide a uniform way of judging students from different schools and backgrounds, but should not be used alone.

The litigation comes as the University of California system is already embroiled in a debate over whether to continue using the tests to judge about 200,000 high school students who apply to its nine undergraduate schools each year. A work group is currently studying whether the ACT and SAT should be a required element for admission; its report is due next year.

The Wall Street Journal also covers the story:


A group of students and community organizations filed a much-anticipated lawsuit against the University of California, alleging that the university system discriminates against low-income students, racial minorities and others by requiring SAT or ACT admissions tests.

The suit was filed Tuesday in California state court on behalf of a high-school sophomore, two seniors, and a first-year student at Pasadena City College, all of whom it says would be strong candidates for more selective UC campuses except for their test scores. Several California college-prep and social-justice nonprofits are also plaintiffs in the suit. The Compton Unified School District is preparing to file a related suit.

They seek to bar the UC system from requiring applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores, and from using scores in admission decisions unless it can demonstrate a way of assessing the scores “in a rigorous and meaningful, transparent, nondiscriminatory, and non-stigmatizing manner,” according to the suit.

The plaintiffs are wading into a nationwide debate about meritocracy and fairness in college admissions. Concerns that certain groups get special advantages, because of wealth, race or other factors have come to a head with last year’s trial regarding admissions practices at Harvard University, as well as the more recent admissions cheating scandal that accuses families of having their teens lie about their academic credentials and cheat on the SAT and ACT.

More than 1,000 colleges and universities including the University of Chicago and Colorado College now make test scores optional. They have questioned whether standardized tests offer any more value than high-school performance in predicting college success. Worcester Polytechnic Institute and Loyola University Maryland say applicants who don’t submit scores are more diverse than those who do, and perform at the same level once in college.

Defenders of the tests say students with high scores tend to fare well in college and beyond. The standardized tests have been considered by many as an equalizer, allowing colleges to identify talent from high schools with which they are not familiar.

A UC task force is currently assessing the value of the SAT and ACT in admissions, with recommendations expected before the end of the school year, and the university will make a decision after that, said a spokeswoman from the UC president’s office. Its determination is expected to have wide-ranging implications due to its size and clout, as UC campuses received more than 176,000 freshman applications last year.

“These discriminatory tests irreparably taint UC’s ostensibly ‘holistic’ admissions process,” the lawsuit says, adding that the tests “act as a proxy for wealth and race and thus concentrate privilege on UC campuses.”

UC campuses can consider academic performance, standardized test scores, class rank, extracurricular activities and other factors, but unlike many other selective institutions are barred from taking into account race or ethnicity in admissions.

“We are disappointed that plaintiffs have filed a lawsuit when the University of California has already devoted substantial resources to studying this complex issue,” the university spokeswoman said Tuesday.

According to College Board data from this year, 45% of white students who took the SAT in California scored at least a 1200 out of a possible 1600, and 55% of Asian students did, compared with only 9% of African-American students and 12% of Hispanic students.

NPR also addresses the anti-SAT/ACT lawsuit:


A lawsuit expected to be filed Tuesday is challenging the University of California system's use of the SAT or ACT as a requirement for admission. A draft of the document obtained by NPR argues that the tests — long used to measure aptitude for college — are deeply biased and provide no meaningful information about a student's ability to succeed, and therefore their requirement is unconstitutional.

"The evidence that we're basing the lawsuit on is not in dispute," says attorney Mark Rosenbaum of the pro bono firm Public Counsel. "What the SAT and ACT are doing are exacerbating inequities in the public school system and keeping out deserving students every admissions cycle."

Public Counsel is filing the suit in California Superior Court on behalf of students and a collection of advocacy groups.

The University of California system has long debated dropping the tests, and some university leaders have expressed their support. At an event in November, Carol Christ, the chancellor of UC Berkeley, said, "I'm very much in favor of doing away with the SAT or ACT as a requirement for application to the University of California." UC Berkeley was quick to clarify that comment didn't signal a policy change.

UC spokesperson Claire Doan couldn't comment on the lawsuit because it hadn't been filed yet. She says a special faculty task force is currently investigating the use of standardized testing in admissions, and the university system is "waiting for the assessment and recommendations from the ... Task Force before determining whether any steps should be taken on this important issue."

The university has been evaluating the requirement through a policy lens, but the lawsuit argues it's a legal issue: "This policy illegally discriminates against applicants on the basis of race and wealth, and thereby denies them equal protection under the California Constitution."

The University of California serves more than 250,000 students and is one of the largest school systems in the country. About 50 years ago, the system adopted the SAT as a way to weed out applicants — a decision that helped elevate the test to a national standard.

But research has since shown that SAT scores are strongly linked to family income, and a student's high school academic record, regardless of what school they attended, does a far better job of predicting college success.