Matt's Past SAT/ACT News Update

Matt O'Connor

Apr 24, 2020

The UC Academic Senate has voted overwhelmingly to retain the SAT/ACT admissions requirement for the next 5 years, and to eliminate the SAT/ACT writing requirement.

The UC Academic Senate vote is not the final word on the use of the exams in the admissions process, but it creates another hurdle for those attempting to de-emphasize or eliminate the SAT/ACT requirement. The UC Board of Regents will make the final decision on testing policy in May.

The LA Times covers the UC story:


The University of California suspended SAT and ACT testing requirements for admission next fall amid the coronavirus pandemic — but many faculty members want them back for at least the next five years.

In a letter sent Saturday to UC President Janet Napolitano, the Academic Senate chair reported unanimous backing from the faculty assembly to keep the controversial tests as an admission requirement, approving a recommendation by a task force this year.

The assembly, made up of faculty leadership and campus representatives, endorsed the report 51-0, with one abstention — an overwhelming show of support that sets up a showdown with testing critics next month, when the UC Board of Regents will take up the issue.

The assembly also endorsed the elimination of the SAT essay and ACT writing test as a requirement for UC undergraduate admissions.

Smarter Balanced was found to be inappropriate for UC admission decisions and rejected as an alternative to the SAT and ACT in a faculty report on the university system’s use of standardized testing. The report was unanimously approved last week by the Academic Senate leadership and representatives from all 10 campuses in a 51-0 vote, with one abstention.

The approval signaled a sweeping show of support that set the stage for a high-stakes showdown with testing critics when regents meet next month to vote on the issue.

The task force concluded, however, that the way UC uses standardized test scores substantially corrects for that bias by weighting them less heavily than grades and considering them as only one of 14 factors in a comprehensive review process. Campuses adjust for socioeconomic differences and admit disadvantaged students with lower test scores compared to more advantaged peers, the review found.

“We know there’s a lot of hesitation about the use of standardized tests,” [Academic Senate Chair Kum-Kum] Bhavnani said. “What I want people to understand is that the way that the UC uses these tests protects disadvantaged students and allows for a more diverse student population.”

Some UC researchers, however, have challenged those findings and argued that they were based on methodological errors.

In a new recommendation, Assembly members voted to revisit the testing issue in five years. They also agreed that tests should not be made optional or replaced by the state assessment used for K-12 schools.

In separate comments, faculty bodies at nine of UC’s 10 campuses also supported retaining the tests. UC Irvine could reach no consensus.

In a follow-up article, the LA Times covers the disagreement among faculty members at the University of California regarding continued use of the SAT and ACT in the admissions process.


Three University of California admissions experts slammed a faculty recommendation to keep the SAT and ACT for at least five years, giving ammunition to critics of the controversial exams who want to drop them as an admissions requirement.

In a letter to UC leadership posted Wednesday, the experts asked the Board of Regents to instead consider using the state assessment for K-12 students in California and several other states known as Smarter Balanced, which research shows is as predictive of college performance as the SAT with less bias against disadvantaged students.

Decades of research have shown the SAT and ACT tests are strongly influenced by race, income and parent education levels, driving legal challenges against their use in UC admissions and decisions by more than 1,000 colleges and universities to make them optional.

UC has temporarily suspended the standardized testing requirement as a result of SAT and ACT test cancellations amid the coronavirus pandemic. But both testing organizations plan to resume offering the exams later this year.

Smarter Balanced was found to be inappropriate for UC admission decisions and rejected as an alternative to the SAT and ACT in a faculty report on the university system’s use of standardized testing. The report was unanimously approved last week by the Academic Senate leadership and representatives from all 10 campuses in a 51-0 vote, with one abstention.

The approval signaled a sweeping show of support that set the stage for a high-stakes showdown with testing critics when regents meet next month to vote on the issue.

But three UC faculty experts in education policy and economics have stepped forward to blast the report’s dismissal of the Smarter Balanced test, continued reliance on discriminatory metrics and endorsement of what they found to be meaningless measures to expand access for underrepresented students.

“A faculty task report that was meant to inform and clarify has instead mischaracterized key issues,” wrote Michal Kurlaender of UC Davis, Sarah Reber of UCLA and Jesse Rothstein of UC Berkeley. “The report makes recommendations that are neither rooted in evidence nor likely to improve admissions fairness or representation across campuses.”

Rothstein, a UC Berkeley professor of economics and public policy, argued that the report erred in asserting that the SAT was a stronger predictor of college performance than high school grades. He said the tests measure advantaged backgrounds, not potential for college, to a far greater degree than do grades.

He also said the report presented no evidence to support the assertion that the way UC uses standardized test scores in admissions decisions compensates for testing bias. The racial gap in SAT scores among applicants and admitted students are about the same, he said, which indicates the absence of any meaningful adjustments.

Valerie Strauss of The Washington Post has also written an article about the dueling views among UC academics.


An unusual dispute about the value of the SAT as a tool in college admissions has flared in California — this one among academics at a time when the influential University of California system just waived the requirement for SAT/ACT scores for fall 2021 applicants because of covid-19 and is considering more broadly what to do with these exams.

Members of the UC Academic Senate have now voted to maintain the testing requirements for at least five years, saying they believe that the university system does not use the tests in a discriminatory way as researchers in the past have long said. But three admissions experts who are researchers within the UC system have issued detailed analyses explaining why they believe the Senate conclusion is wrong, and, if followed, would “waste both time and taxpayer dollars.”

Kum-Kum Bhavnani, chairman of the Assembly of the Academic Senate, recently sent a letter (see text below) to Napolitano saying that senate members supported the continued mandatory use of SAT/ACT scores in college admissions. It calls for new actions to be taken to ensure fairness and that in five years the policy be reviewed. His letter says in part:

The Assembly was persuaded by the analyses conducted by members of the STTF which demonstrated, perhaps counter-intuitively, that UC’s use of standardized test scores within their local context protects the admission eligibility of the very populations about whom there is concern, and ensures that under-represented, low-income, historically minoritized, and other similar populations are eligible for admission at UC.

Assembly members were convinced by the report’s conclusion that the University uses standardized tests responsibly and appropriately by considering scores in context, through an inclusive review process that embraces a broad definition of academic promise. Assembly was also persuaded by evidence that standardized tests have value above and beyond other metrics; that other pre-college factors – including availability and fulfillment of A-G subject requirements – explain the substantial variance in the eligibility of applicants, and their success at UC thereafter; and that the major barrier to college access is not the SAT/ACT, but access to quality education and resources at the K-12 level.

But three researchers within the UC system — Michal Kurlaender from the University of California at Davis, Sarah Reber from the University of California at Los Angeles and Jesse Rothstein from the University of California at Berkeley — disagree with the Academic Senate in a statement (see text below). They say in part:

The suggestion that the UC spend close to a decade developing a new test is wasteful and misguided. The UC has the chance now to form a partnership with K–12 on admissions and academic expectations that would strengthen both systems and provide a service to students who aspire to attend the state’s 4-year colleges. Greater reliance on other validated measures of college readiness—such as GPA and the SBAC—could improve equity while simultaneously aligning the now-disjointed expectations of high schools and universities.

Admissions policies that put substantial weight on SAT scores create barriers to admission for students from underrepresented groups and lead to less diversity. A fair admissions system would not place as much emphasis on SAT scores — which are proxies for opportunity — as the UC does now. UC campuses could put greater emphasis on high school grades without creating grade inflation that would undermine the fairness or validity of admissions decisions.

Cornell University has become the first Ivy league institution to announce it will waive the SAT/ACT requirement for the coming year, as reported by the Wall Street Journal.


Cornell University is suspending its requirement that applicants submit SAT or ACT scores for next year’s admissions cycle, the first Ivy League institution to make such a move, in an acknowledgment of the upheaval the coronavirus pandemic has caused for high-school students.

Dozens of colleges and universities have said in recent weeks that they would be going test-optional, at least for this coming year, because the SAT and ACT weren’t offered this spring due to the pandemic and plans for fall test dates are still reliant on schools reopening.

As more join the movement, even briefly, it can be easier for students to forgo the exams without missing a shot at a particular dream school.

Cornell said the switch is temporary and it isn’t adopting a permanent test-optional policy.

“This emergency guidance for applicants during 2020 does not intend to suggest conviction at Cornell that future examinations can’t help us to evaluate candidates and predict their college success,” the school said in a notice added to its admissions website on Wednesday.

The school said it still expects to receive test scores from many students, and scores could be “a meaningful differentiator” for those who live near or attend schools that are open for testing or whose families didn’t lose income or face other hardships this year.

Some other Ivy League schools, including Princeton and Brown universities, have informed current high school juniors that they don’t expect students to take the ACT or SAT multiple times, given the limited testing dates now available.

Scott Jaschik of Inside Higher Ed has written an article that addresses the plans of the College Board and ACT, Inc. to adjust their testing schedules due to the crisis, and to possibly offer online home testing in the fall if necessary:


The College Board and ACT said Wednesday that their admissions tests will soon be back.

But with more colleges going test optional on admissions, the testing organizations clearly wanted it known that they will return.

For those students who take the SAT during school hours, Coleman said the College Board will add a fall date to accommodate the 770,000 high school students who were scheduled for in-school tests that could not be given.

“We know students and educators are worried about how the coronavirus may disrupt the college admissions process, and we want to do all we can to help alleviate that anxiety during this very demanding time,” he said.

Meanwhile, the ACT has announced changes in its schedule but has not canceled a June test.

"Our primary concern at this time is the health and safety of students and our testing staff," said Ed Colby, a spokesman for ACT.

"As CDC and local guidelines for safety allow, in addition to our planned June 13 and July 18 test dates, we will be offering new test dates on June 20 and July 25 to provide students with options to schedule and reschedule their registration," he said. "We will also offer a remote proctoring option for the ACT test, allowing students to take the test at their home on a computer. As early as August, we will begin offering students a practice experience with the at-home ACT and will launch the option in late fall/early winter 2020 as part of our national testing program. We'll be releasing more information soon."

The number of colleges going test optional continues to grow and to include institutions with well-respected academics. This week alone, Swarthmore College, Tulane University and Virginia Tech announced one- or two-year experiments with test optional.

The Compass Education Group, a test-prep company, put up a blog post about the changes in dates. "As SAT and ACT testing resumes (whether at schools or online) over the summer and through the fall, is there clearly a surge in registration for these test dates as pent-up demand is accommodated? Is it obvious that the general consensus is that testing is as important as ever? Or has the test-optional movement finally reached a tipping point resulting in less test-taking activity? This will be known by October."

Robert Schaeffer, interim executive director of FairTest: National Center for Fair & Open Testing, said, "These are totally predictable responses to the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic, the explosive growth of schools announcing SAT/ACT-optional policies for fall 2021 and the serious threat to the College Board's fat bottom line from cancellation of several hundred thousand tests this spring."

The College Board is making contingency plans to administer the SAT if school closures persist beyond the current academic year that ends in June, as reported by the Wall Street Journal.


After canceling springtime SAT and ACT test dates to comply with limits on large gatherings due to the coronavirus pandemic, the College Board and ACT are now making plans so high-school students can take the college-admission exams come fall.

The College Board said Wednesday it plans to offer its SAT at least one weekend a month beginning in August, provide more options for free school-day tests in partnership with districts and states and, if school doesn’t open in the fall, create an online offering. All are contingent on public-health guidelines. It won’t conduct a test in early June.

The ACT, meanwhile, will offer a computer-based, at-home option for students in late fall or early winter, a spokesman said, with practice sessions available as soon as August.

The ACT canceled its April test session. A spokesman said it added a second set of test dates each for June and July, which could be helpful if crowd limits remain in effect this summer.

The College Board didn’t cancel its March test date, though with many test sites closed and some states already instituting stay-at-home orders by then, just a fraction of students who signed up for the exam were able to complete it. The May SAT test date and now the June one as well were also canceled.

About one million students from the high-school class of 2021 who had signed up to take the SAT this spring were unable to do so, the College Board said, with about three-quarters of those scheduled to take the exam on school days.

David Coleman, CEO of the College Board, said that if schools don’t reopen in the fall—which he called “increasingly unlikely”—the College Board will ensure that an at-home option is available. He said that version of the SAT, which would use remote proctoring, would be “simple, secure and fair, accessible to all and valid for use in college admissions.”

The New York Times also covers the testing plan announcements, and raises questions of fairness regarding online home testing for college-bound students.


The SAT and the ACT, standardized tests that serve as a gateway to college for millions of applicants each year, announced on Wednesday that they would develop digital versions for students to take at home in the fall if the coronavirus pandemic continues to require social distancing.

The switch would mark one of the most significant changes in the history of the admissions tests, which are normally taken with a sharpened No. 2 pencil and paper in a highly secure setting, under the watchful eye of proctors.

David Coleman, the chief executive of the College Board, a nonprofit organization that oversees the SAT and brings in more than $1 billion a year in revenue, described the possibility of at-home testing as “unlikely” in a conference call with reporters on Wednesday. He also announced that the June testing date for the SAT, like others this spring, would be canceled.

A spokesman for the ACT, the rival test, said it too was prepared to move to at-home digital testing in the fall, if necessary.

Even the possibility brought stark warnings from critics and testing experts, who said at-home tests could exacerbate inequality, raise privacy issues and make it easier to cheat. Test security is a significant concern in the wake of last year’s college admissions scandal, in which prosecutors accused some wealthy parents of helping their children cheat on the tests to get into exclusive universities.

Low-income students already face disadvantages when it comes to testing, including a lack of access to private tutors, study guides and other means available to wealthy students trying to boost their scores. Making them take a high-stakes test at home could put them at a further disadvantage, experts said.

“You’re going to have an upper-middle-class kid with his own bedroom and his own computer system with a big monitor in a comfortable environment taking his SATs,” said Mark Sklarow, chief executive of the Independent Educational Consultants Association, which represents private college admissions coaches. “And you’re going to have a kid who lives in a home maybe with spotty broadband, one family computer in the dining room.”

He added, “I don’t know how that can be equitable.”

Valerie Strauss of The Washington Post offers additional views on the complications and the fairness of online home SAT/ACT testing.


If something in the education world sounds too good to be true, that’s probably because it is more pipe dream than reality.

And that’s the way it sounded when leaders of the College Board, which owns the SAT, sounded when they announced Wednesday that they would be prepared to provide an unprecedented online, take-at-home SAT — which would be simple, secure, accessible and valid — if schools stay closed in the fall because of the coronavirus crisis.

While online testing is nothing new, and some students have already taken the SAT online, the exam has never been given digitally at home. Reporters who heard the news on a conference call quickly raised questions about concerns that students could cheat with their parents whispering answers, and about proctoring technology invading the privacy of young people taking the test in their homes.

There were questions, too, about how fair it would be to expect students who live in crowded or chaotic homes to take a three-hour-plus test in a quiet space without disruptions, and whether the scores of this test could be compared to previous scores from tests taken in person at a testing site.

College Board officials’ answer: Don’t worry, we’ve got this.

“If this was four years ago, we could not make this commitment” about keeping the test secure, said Jeremy Singer, president of the College Board. “The technology was not there."

It is now, he said.

But there are a number of equity and validity issues that can’t be waved away.

Even sophisticated technology can be circumvented: There are entire websites devoted to explaining how to circumvent proctoring apps. And there are real concerns about how invasive proctoring technology actually is, according to the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, a nonprofit known as FairTest aimed at ending the misuse of standardized tests.

How many trained remote proctors are there to work on a single day when hundreds of thousands of students might take a test at the same time? And how accurate is plagiarism-detection software? Many students from poor families only have access to smartphones. Is it fair to compare a score from a test taken on a phone, which can skew graphics, to a test taken on a laptop? What about families with no or spotty Internet service? How can they ensure adequate accommodations for students with special needs when they are at home?

College Board chief executive David Coleman said Wednesday that the covid-19 crisis has laid bare the vast inequities in American society and public schools, and that any effort to administer a digital, at-home test effort would be pursued in the name of educational equity. That’s certainly a laudable goal. But achieving it is not something that Coleman or anybody else can truly meet.

“We feel that in a situation where these tests are optional, what is crucial is that low-income students also have that option to distinguish themselves by having that test score to add to their data," he said.

But the College Board, a nonprofit, has critics who said they suspect different motives for an online at-home SAT. Bob Schaeffer, interim executive director of FairTest, noted that the College Board — which brought in $1 billion in revenue in 2017 and netted $140 million, tax forms show — has lost millions of dollars because of repeated cancellations of exam administrations this year during the pandemic.

Another elite institution has adopted a 3-year test optional pilot program. Tufts University, ranked no. 29 by US News among National Universities, made the announcement late last month.

CNN offers an article detailing the recent rash of test optional announcements regarding the current application cycle due to the crisis.


In total, about 51 universities and colleges have dropped the ACT/SAT requirement for at least fall 2021 in recent months, according to a list by the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, or FairTest, a nonprofit organization working to end the misuse of standardized testing.

They include Boston University, which announced it's going test-optional for students applying for the fall 2021 and spring 2022 semesters, and the University of California, which said all nine of the schools in its system would suspend the requirement for students applying for fall 2021.

The majority of the universities and colleges that have adopted these test-optional policies are doing it temporarily to accommodate students during the coronavirus pandemic.

But Bob Schaeffer, interim executive director of FairTest, believes that this moment could possibly persuade them to adopt such policies permanently.

"This could well be the tipping point," Schaeffer told CNN. "Removal of the test was already rapidly increasing... From our experience, we've seen that when schools do these pilot programs, they never go back."

Making testing optional is "a win-win for both the students and admission offices," Schaeffer added. "Schools get more applicants and a more diverse pool of applicants, so it's a win for them. And on the student side, the opportunity to be evaluated by more than a score is very appealing."

A few weeks ago Davidson College in North Carolina (ranked no. 17 by US News) announced a 3 year test optional pilot, and now two other highly selective colleges have done the same.

Here are the two announcements:

Middlebury College (which had been test flexible, allowing the submission of 3 SAT IIs in lieu of SAT/ACT), will adopt a 3-year test optional pilot programs, as detailed on the college's website:


To assist students and families grappling with the pandemic, Middlebury College will no longer require applicants to submit standardized test scores. The change is meant to offer flexibility to students who plan on applying to college in a world transformed by COVID-19. The new test-optional policy will remain in place on a trial basis for three years, through fall 2023.

“High school students are dealing with an enormous amount of uncertainty right now,” said Nicole Curvin, Middlebury’s dean of admissions. “The college search process is already stressful enough. Becoming test-optional is one way we can reduce the pressure and respond to the needs of students today.”

Many dates for standardized testing have been cancelled this spring and it is unclear whether the tests scheduled for the summer will take place as planned. High schools, where the tests take place, are closed in most areas and students are limited to remote classes and accessing only those school resources that are available online.

According to Curvin, Middlebury’s adoption of a test-optional approach had been under discussion for a year, and current events confirmed that now was the time to pursue it. “As we continue to work towards a more equitable admissions process, we seek to clear obstacles that might prevent students from applying, especially right now when students face other hurdles in their home community due to the pandemic,” she added.

and Haverford, also from the college's website:


An announcement from Jess Lord, Vice President & Dean of Admission and Financial Aid.

I am pleased to announce that, beginning with the admission process for students entering in Fall 2021, Haverford is adopting a test-optional admission policy for a three-year period.

Given the significant disruptions students are experiencing, we believe this change to our standardized testing policy will reduce stress and provide students with much greater flexibility as they navigate a college admission process that is unfolding much differently than expected. We also see this policy change as aligning closely with our mission and core values. We have always taken a holistic approach to evaluating students for admission, including making our admission decisions by consensus, and we embrace an approach that is mindful of how the admission process impacts students. We also believe that further limiting the role that standardized testing plays in our process strengthens Haverford’s leadership in and commitment to access, diversity, and inclusion.

Moving forward, first-year and transfer candidates for admission may choose whether or not to submit the results of the SAT and/or the ACT as a part of their admission application. While standardized testing has traditionally played only a small role in our evaluations, we are eager to better understand the impact a test-optional policy will have on how students experience our application process and on our ability to build a diverse, talented, and dynamic community of scholars at Haverford. And at the end of the three-year period, we will evaluate the role standardized testing should play in our admission process going forward.

All 3 of these colleges admit less than 20% of applicants, so the results of their 3-year pilot programs will be closely watched by other top-tier colleges.

Some other top colleges have temporarily waived SAT/ACT requirements for one year due to the crisis, including Williams, Pomona, Amherst, and Vassar. Vassar's announcement states that the results of the test optional admissions cycle will be assessed in order to determine if the policy will be made permanent.