Matt's Past SAT/ACT News Update

Matt O'Connor

Jan 14, 2020

As the University of California system and the California State University system are both re-assessing their use of the SAT/ACT in their admissions processes, the CEO of ACT, Inc. has sent a 3-page letter to the regents of UC, asserting that "removing standardized testing from college admissions" represents "a short-term Band-Aid that shortchanges students in the long run."

The San Francisco Chronicle has more on the communication sent by ACT, Inc.'s Marten Roorda:


Ending the standardized test requirement for admissions at the University of California would deprive students of an objective measure of their skills, among other negative consequences, the head of the ACT test warned UC regents this week.

“Many underserved students benefit greatly from standardized testing as a counterweight for less-than-stellar” grades,” ACT chief executive Marten Roorda told the regents in a three-page letter sent Tuesday to the regents that sets out his argument for why the vast university of nine undergraduate campuses should continue using the test it’s relied on for decades.

Yet Roorda’s letter was met with skepticism from two of the regents, as UC considers whether to keep the testing requirement or join more than 1,000 universities around the country that have made the standardized tests ACT and SAT optional in admissions decisions — or end their use altogether.

At UC, a faculty task force is preparing recommendations for UC President Janet Napolitano and the UC Academic Senate to consider, and will present a final proposal to the regents at their May meeting.

Roorda’s letter is timed to influence that decision, and acknowledges that much is at stake for the 60-year-old nonprofit.

“Your admissions offices are tasked with holistically considering 200,000+ applicants annually — far beyond the scale and reach of most other university systems,” Roorda wrote, referencing UC’s global reach and its “record-breaking numbers of applications.”

He argues that the objectivity of the ACT, a “trusted, accurate and fair testing program,” benefits both students and the university that has to evaluate so many applicants.

“The proliferation of ‘grade inflation’ — already a big problem — will become even more of an issue, particularly in wealthy districts and private schools, where ... assertive parents are willing to negotiate with teachers,” Roorda wrote.

The regents haven’t responded to the letter from the testing official, but Regents Chair John Pérez offered a skeptical view.

“I appreciate that the ACT wants to do everything in their power to protect their revenue stream,” he said. “Our charge, on the other hand, is to identify the best policy” for admitting qualified students and “ensuring that we don’t use (testing) tools that have low predictive value.”

The LA Times has published an article titled, "Grades vs. SAT scores: Which is a better predictor of college success?", which looks at student test scores, grades, and graduation rates at UC Riverside.


As a student at Kaiser High School in Fontana two years ago, Melissa Morfin-Acevedo bombed her SAT test, scoring in the bottom third percentile nationally.

The daughter of an immigrant single mother with a fifth-grade education, Morfin-Acevedo lived below the poverty line and couldn’t afford test prep tutors. She took the 8 a.m. test exhausted, having returned home from her theater job past midnight that day.

But her 4.1 GPA helped her win admission to UC Riverside — and today the second-year student in political science is thriving in the honors program, earning mostly A’s, and preparing for a career in law or public service.

“The SAT score does not reflect your future possible success in college,” she said. “If you want it, you can do it.”

The UC Academic Senate, which sets admissions standards, is expected to issue recommendations on the tests by February, with Cal State to follow. The issue, which has drawn international attention because of the size and prestige of the public university systems, raises several pressing questions. How do students with high grades but low SAT scores actually do in college? What support do they need — and get? Are there drawbacks to relying more heavily on grades?

Among 1,807 UC Riverside students with GPAs of 3.75 or higher and SAT scores above 900 — the 32nd percentile — outcomes were not so different between those with higher- and lower-end SAT test scores:

---The six-year graduation rate for those with SAT scores between 900 and 1090 was 81% compared with 83% for those with SAT scores between 1100 and 1600, the highest score possible.
---The rate of students returning for a second year was 91% for those with the lower scores and 94% for those with the highest scores.
---The first-year GPA was 2.78, a B-, for students with lower scores compared with 3.36, a B+, for those with the highest scores.

For university officials who must weigh the complexities of the criteria in their admissions decisions, there are no easy answers.

Emily Engelschall, UC Riverside director of undergraduate admissions, says she sees the shortcomings of standardized testing but that the scores do help evaluate grades across vastly different high schools. She also worries that dropping the testing requirement could exacerbate grade inflation.

Presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has written an op-ed titled "America must end high-stakes testing, finally invest in public education."


Wednesday marks 18 years since the signing into law of No Child Left Behind, one of the worst pieces of legislation in our nation’s history. In December 2001, I voted against NCLB because it was as clear to me then, as it is now, that so-called school choice and high-stakes standardized testing would not improve our schools or enhance our children’s ability to learn. We do not need an education system in which kids are simply taught to take tests. We need a system in which kids learn and grow in a holistic manner.

NCLB also undermined the profession of teaching and hurt our students. Now, educators are routinely forced to teach to the test rather than encouraged to draw on their expertise. Students spend hours each year taking tests, and that doesn't include the hours it takes to prepare for them. This burden of testing has contributed to teacher burnout and caused levels of stress and anxiety among students to apparently surge.
The most serious flaw of high-stakes testing, however, is that it ignores the real problems facing our teachers and students: social inequality and underinvestment in our schools.

Brennan Barnard, a college counselor at an independent high school who often writes for Forbes, has written an article offering predictions regarding how the college admissions landscape will change in the new decade.


There is almost unanimous agreement that the test-optional movement will be one of the biggest shifts in college admission in the coming years, continuing to grow exponentially. How fast and how widespread is tough to pinpoint, but it would not be surprising if this is the decade that at least one, if not several, Ivy League institutions will embrace these equity and access friendly policies. My personal prediction (and I have no inside information) is that Yale will be the brave Ivy pioneers on this front—though to other Ivy deans, please note that I am certainly open to being proven wrong here (challenge accepted?)!

Brian Doherty, a school counselor at Westford Academy in Massachusetts projects that “80% of schools will be test-optional or flexible (allowing students to combine scores from various tests) by the end of this decade.” Lawrence University’s Anselment also anticipates an increase, speculating that “state systems will join the test-optional movement in growing numbers.” He estimates that as a result that “with pressure on their secondary-to-college revenue stream, testing agencies (College Board and ACT) will have to hustle to develop new revenue streams, which may have some consequences at the elementary, middle, and secondary levels.” Speaking to the other potential impact of state institutions no longer requiring standardized tests, Whittier’s Serna predicts that “private institutions in those states will follow suit.” He says that “many people don't realize that state schools are usually the primary competition for most privates, and since they command a larger part of the market their decisions will usually set the standard for the majority of the field.” A perfect example he gives is the impact that the University of California system had on testing when they stopped requiring SAT subject exams. Whether it is large state institutions or the Ivy League that starts the domino effect, testing in admission will undoubtedly look very different in ten years.

Scott Jaschik of Inside Higher Ed offers news of three more test optional adoptions: Oregon Tech, Southern Illinois University at Carbondale, and Spaldin University.