Matt's Past SAT/ACT News Update

Matt O'Connor

Feb 06, 2020

The Standardized Test Task Force appointed by the University of California to review the system's use of SAT and ACT in admissions eligibility calculations has completed its work, and it has recommended that the exams remain a requirement for all applicants. Melissa Korn of The Wall Street Journal covers the story:


A faculty task force at the University of California is recommending that the sprawling system not drop standardized tests as a requirement for admission now, saying that applicants’ scores on the SAT and ACT still serve as better predictors of first-year performance than high school grades.

However, the task force encouraged the university system to expand the criteria on which it bases admissions decisions, and suggested possibly creating an alternative assessment—which, it warned, could take nine years.

The Academic Senate will give its final recommendation to UC President Janet Napolitano in April after soliciting feedback from faculty. Ms. Napolitano will then present the issue to the board of regents to make a final decision.

The University of California received more than 176,000 freshman applications last year—including around 116,000 from in-state students—and if the system made a change, other schools could follow suit to ensure they don’t alienate applicants from California. More than 1,000 colleges and universities now make test scores optional.

In a report released Monday, the task force said it had “pragmatic concerns about how campuses would evaluate and compare applicants who submit standardized test scores relative to applicants who do not; whether and how campuses would impute, explicitly or implicitly, test scores to applicants; and ethical concerns about how to treat students in the two groups fairly.”
The task force said the university could create a new assessment that doesn’t have such disparities by race, ethnicity and socioeconomic status, but was mixed on whether to eliminate testing requirements before that alternative was ready, which would likely be in nine years.

A group of students and community groups sued the UC system in December, alleging that the university discriminates against low-income students and others by relying on test scores in admissions. The task force said Monday it didn’t find evidence that the use of test scores played a major role in worsening existing disparities.

The UC Standardized Test Task Force report can be found here, in pdf form: Report of the UC Academic Council - Standardized Testing Task Force (STTF)

Lilah Burke of Inside Higher Ed offers additional coverage and quotes regarding the findings of UC's task force.


The Academic Senate of the University of California assembled a task force in 2018 to evaluate the system’s current use of standardized tests. On Monday that task force delivered a much-anticipated report listing several recommendations. Not among the recommendations? Tossing the tests.

While the authors considered what it might look like for the large public university system to go test optional and not require SAT or ACT scores in the admissions process, they ultimately declined to endorse that option.

Pressure has been mounting on the UC system to hop on the test-optional train, as more than 1,000 other institutions -- including the University of Chicago, Indiana State University and George Washington University -- have done. A lawsuit against the system, alleging that the standardized tests are biased and exacerbate inequality, and comments from Carol Christ, UC Berkeley's chancellor, that favored dropping the tests indicated that the system might be next to switch. The task force’s report makes the administration’s final decision much harder to predict.

“The SAT allows many disadvantaged students to gain guarantees of admission to UC,” the report said, analyzing data that suggested that 24 percent of Latino students and 40 percent of African Americans who earned guaranteed admission did so due to their test scores.

"The original intent of the SAT was to identify students who came from outside relatively privileged circles who might have the potential to succeed in university," said the report. "This original intent is clearly being realized at UC."

Also among the recommendations was a suggestion that the system develop its own assessments. These new tests could be more predictive of success at UC and show smaller disparities between student groups than current standardized tests, allowing the system to admit a student body that would be more representative of the state, the report said. But development of those tests would take approximately nine years.
William Hiss, former dean of admissions at Bates College, said the move by UC faculty members likely is not a setback for the test-optional movement. “I would expect systems and institutions to make their own decisions,” said Hiss, who was the principal investigator on a large study suggesting tests fail to identify talented applicants with potential to succeed.

Bob Schaeffer, executive director of FairTest, an organization that opposes the use of standardized testing in admissions, stressed that the report is only a recommendation from the faculty task force and is not binding. The Academic Senate will take comments from faculty members at the different campuses and give a final recommendation in April to Janet Napolitano, the system's president. She is expected to bring the issue to the system's Board of Regents, which in May will make the final decision on the matter.

Schaeffer said he was concerned that the task force’s research arrived at different conclusions than the work of other researchers who have studied the UC system. “Because of these discrepancies, we call upon the task force to make the data sets it analyzed available to independent analysts for further review,” he said via email.

Despite the finding and recommendations of UC’s STTF, opponents of the use of SAT/ACT at UC clearly state that they will continue their push to have the test requirement scrapped. Ed Source’s Larry Gordon and Michael Burke have the story:


The UC faculty study released Monday says that standardized exams remain good predictors of students’ success at UC at a time when grade inflation in high schools makes it harder to choose potential university freshmen. In fact, the report insists that test results actually help identify many talented Latino, black and low-income students who otherwise might be rejected because their high school grades alone were not high enough.

However, Mark Rosenbaum, an attorney for the Los Angeles-based law firm Public Counsel, which is among several parties suing UC over the exams, criticized the task force report for “its shifting of the blame for the inequities in UC admission from UC’s unlawful use of discriminatory and meaningless tests to the California public school system.”

“Rather than blame California’s students, their families and communities, and their teachers, the University should eliminate all reliance on these discriminatory and meaningless tests, and instead work with the State K-12 system to whatever degree necessary to fulfill UC’s mandate to build a student body that reflects the broad diversity of the State,” he said.

The debate will continue within UC over the next four months. The full faculty’s Academic Assembly is scheduled to make a recommendation in April to UC president Janet Napolitano, who will then deliver her recommendation to the regents board for a final decision in May.

According to a statement from UC president Napolitano’s office, “the University aims to continue deliberating the role of standardized testing in our admissions process through a careful, fact-based approach so as to arrive at the most informed decision possible.”

The public release Monday of the task force’s 228-page report is “merely at the start of a process,” Kum-Kum Bhavnani, chair of the system’s Academic Senate, said in a press conference Monday. The final decision “remains to be seen” and will require much more review and deliberation, said Bhavnani, a UC Santa Barbara sociology professor.

In the wake of the release of the UC STTF’s report recommending the retention of SAT/ACT (at least for now), the results of a recent study that found high school GPA was far more predictive than ACT scores of college results should be considered.

The study tracked the college outcomes of more than 55,000 high school students in the Chicago area. Excerpts from a press release regarding the study follow:


Students’ high school grade point averages are five times stronger than their ACT scores at predicting college graduation, according to a new study published today in Educational Researcher, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Educational Research Association.

The authors of the new study, Elaine M. Allensworth and Kallie Clark, both of the University of Chicago, also found that the predictive power of GPAs is consistent across high schools. The relationship between ACT scores and college graduation depends on which high school a student attends; at many high schools there is no connection between students’ ACT scores and eventual college graduation.

“It was surprising not only to see that there was no relationship between ACT scores and college graduation at some high schools, but also to see that at many high schools the relationship was negative among students with the highest test scores,” said Allensworth, who is the director of the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research.

Across all high schools in the study, each incremental increase in GPA is associated with an increase in the odds of graduating college. The chance of graduating from college ranges from 20 percent for students with high school GPAs under 1.5 to about 80 percent for those with GPAs of 3.75 or higher, after controlling for student backgrounds and college characteristics.

“While people often think the value of GPAs is inconsistent across high schools, and that standardized test scores, like the ACT, are neutral indicators of college readiness because they are taken by everyone under the same conditions, our findings indicate otherwise,” Allensworth said. “The bottom line is that high school grades are powerful tools for gauging students’ readiness for college, regardless of which high school a student attends, while ACT scores are not.”

According to the authors, their study confirms prior research that finds high school GPAs are more predictive than SAT and ACT scores of college freshman GPA and college graduation. This study is the first to explicitly test whether standardized assessments are comparable across high schools as measures of college readiness.

In a recent article, Doug Belkin of the Wall Street Journal asks, "Is It Fair to Award Scholarships Based on the SAT?"


Should schools continue to use SAT scores to award scholarships?

Colleges and universities give out about $30 billion a year in merit aid, which is often based on a student’s SAT or ACT. An additional $2 billion in merit aid distributed by states hinges on standardized test scores.

Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts stopped using the test for merit scholarships last year, said Andrew Palumbo, dean of admission. Instead, the school is weighing grades, community service and leadership. The school has made the SAT optional for applicants since 2007. “Using the tests doesn’t help us achieve our goals” of diversifying the student body, he said. Students who apply without the test are just as successful as undergraduates as peers who do submit the test, he said.
ACT spokesman Ed Colby defended the test as a fair measure of academic knowledge and skills but said the exam shouldn’t be used in a vacuum. “High-stakes decisions regarding college admissions and scholarships should be based on multiple factors,” he said in an email.
Universities use merit aid to compete for students. Merit scholarships can make students feel wanted and prompt families to think they are getting a deal. The awards also help campuses lure top students from even more prestigious schools, a few dozen of which don’t offer merit aid at all. Some merit aid goes to students who also have financial need.

The University of Denver, which made the test optional for admission last year, still uses both the SAT and ACT to allocate merit aid because it wants to attract the best students it can, said Todd Rinehart, vice chancellor of enrollment. “Whether we like it or not, students with high SAT scores have a market value, and certain schools are willing to pay merit money for a certain range of test scores,” he said. “We could say we’re not going to play in this space because we see the inequity, but if we want to have a competitive chance of enrolling them, we better pay market value.”

“The exams increase inequality when you look at who is getting access to aid,” said Laura Perna, professor at the Graduate School of Education at the University of Pennsylvania. The same dynamic is playing out with college scholarships awarded by some states. In Florida, eligibility for the state’s Bright Futures scholarship, which is paid for by the state lottery, requires at least a 1290 on the SAT.

Among 53,060 top scholarships allotted last year, African-American students earned 4% of them while making up 21% of the state’s population of 18- and 19-year-olds.

Asian students earned 9% of the scholarships while making up less than 3% of the population of the same age.

The highly competitive California Institute of Technology (CalTech) has dropped its requirement for SAT subject tests. Scott Jaschik of Inside Higher Ed has the story, and also address 3 new test optional policy announcements for The University of Indiana at Bloomington (with 33,000 undergraduates; ranked 79th by US News among National Universities), Lourdes University, and Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College.


The California Institute of Technology announced Thursday that it is eliminating the SAT Subject Test scores as a requirement for admission. Caltech is among the very few institutions that require subject tests from all applicants. The university had been requiring students to take and submit scores on the SAT Subject Test in mathematics level 2, as well as one SAT science test in either ecological biology, molecular biology, chemistry or physics.

"In reviewing our admissions requirements, we have come to the conclusion that the requirement for submission of SAT subject test scores creates an unnecessary barrier to applying for a Caltech education," said a statement from Nikki Chun, director of undergraduate admissions. "We are guiding our focus back to long-term academic STEM preparedness based on coursework and grade performance."

Other recent test optional announcements have been made by The University of Missouri-Kansas City and Northern Illinois University (which is adopting a "test blind" policy, meaning that the University will not consider SAT/ACT scores even if submitted).