Matt's Past SAT/ACT News Update

Matt O'Connor

Nov 12, 2020

A California state appeals court has reinstated a ban on the consideration of SAT/ACT scores by the University of California, due to the disparate ability of certain groups to take the exams during the pandemic.


The University of California, which has stopped requiring applicants to take the SAT or the ACT, cannot allow prospective students to submit their scores on the standardized tests, a state appeals court said Thursday in a victory for students with disabilities.

In response to a lawsuit by low-income, minority and disabled students, the UC regents voted in May to drop both tests as admissions requirements. The students had contended the tests were unfair to applicants who could not afford preparation classes and tutors, and to those whose first language was not English.

But the regents allowed individual campuses to let students submit SAT and ACT scores voluntarily in applications for 2021 and 2022, after which the university would no longer accept the scores. Regents chairman John Pérez said good scores could help applicants without penalizing those who did not submit them.

Disability advocates protested that the voluntary submissions still tipped the scales against disabled students, who generally lacked access to the tests. In August, Alameda County Superior Court Judge Brad Seligman issued an injunction prohibiting even voluntary use of the exams during current conditions.

The university appealed, saying a ban on voluntary consideration of the tests would harm diverse groups of students.

Court intervention has “a direct effect on a wide range of students, including students from disadvantaged groups, who have prepared for and taken the SAT or ACT,” UC lawyers said. They said the university’s incoming freshman class is “the most diverse in its history.”

The First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco issued a temporary stay on Sept. 22, putting Seligman’s order on hold while it considered the arguments. But the court lifted the stay on Thursday and barred UC campuses from accepting or considering SAT or ACT scores.

Scott Jaschik of Insider Higher Ed continues to report on the widespread difficulty students are experiencing in successfully scheduling and taking SAT/ACT exams:


Of 312,000 students registered for the Nov. 7 SAT and SAT Subject Tests, 96,000 registered students are unable to take the test because of testing center limits or closings, the College Board announced. Of test centers initially scheduled to administer the tests, 70 percent are currently open for November, though some have reduced capacity; 15 percent of open centers are at capacity; and 30 percent of centers announced they are closed.

The College Board has had difficulty with test centers since the pandemic broke out. Of the 334,000 students registered to take the SAT on Sept. 26, 183,000 were not able to take the test. And of the 363,000 registered to take the SAT or the SAT Subject Tests on Oct. 3, 154,000 were unable to do so.

Despite the rapid increase in the number of test optional colleges in recent years (a trend that has been greatly accelerated due to the pandemic), some college admissions consultants don't believe college admissions officers when they say that students who fail to submit scores will not be placed at a disadvantage:


Students who do not submit SAT, ACT, or SAT Subject Tests for the 2020-2021 application cycle will not be at a disadvantage in the admissions process, according to the [University of Pennsylvania] Admissions website. However, the admissions office will continue to accept and evaluate scores of applicants who were able to take the tests.

The policy raises questions about what “test-optional” truly means for prospective students' applications. While most colleges assure students that they will not be at a disadvantage if they do not submit test scores, some college counseling specialists question the assertion.

Brian Taylor, who is the managing director of Ivy Coach, a firm that helps students gain admission to selective colleges, suspects that students who do submit test scores will receive an immense advantage in the process.

“We don't believe test-optional policies are worth the paper they're written on,” Taylor said. “If one kid has great test scores and one kid has no test scores, all else being equal, the kid with great test scores will win every time over the kid with no test scores. As long as the school allows the submission of the scores, then they're not telling it like it is. They're not really test-optional.”

Taylor urges students to do whatever it takes to submit scores despite the cancellation of several SAT and ACT tests this year. Though he recognizes that most top institutions will have to admit applicants without test scores, he would not recommend that prospective applicants take that chance.

Most US colleges and universities have waived their SAT/ACT requirements during the pandemic, but one major statewide system — Florida's state universities — has not followed suit. This is believed to have contributed to a steep drop in applications to the Florida system:


One state stands out for not going along with relaxing the rules on the SAT or ACT: Florida, which requires applicants to take one of the tests.

And the 12 universities in the State University System of Florida are seeing losses in applications for the fall that are up to 50 percent of last year's totals, system administrators announced at a Board of Governors meeting Thursday.

At the board meeting, some members questioned whether the university system should waive its requirements this year, but there was no vote on that action.

Renee’ Fargason, director of strategic communications and advocacy for the board, said via email that "the State University System is actively engaged in discussions with the universities on SAT/ACT admission requirements and working with the College Board and ACT Inc. to monitor the availability of both tests. At this time, we have been informed by the College Board and ACT Inc. that a significant number of seats are still available in Florida for the national test dates. We have also advised universities to extend the deadlines for students to submit the required scores for admission if possible."

Fargason did not explain why the state was not waiving requirements this year, but said, "Please note that while test scores are required, all State University System institutions already utilize more than test scores in determining admission decisions. Also note that the above is based on currently available information, which may fluctuate daily in these difficult times."

But newspaper reports and college counselors suggest that Florida high school students are, like students elsewhere, struggling to take the tests.

Susan Groden, an independent counselor in Florida, says, "Parents have horror stories about being on the phone with SAT and ACT for hours. Students tell us horror stories."

In August, the National Association for College Admission Counseling urged public colleges especially to go test optional.

"In some cases, these institutions enroll tens of thousands of students, creating an outsized burden for all families whose students seek admission to them, " a NACAC statement said. "In this critical time, public colleges must be mindful of their founding purpose of serving students and families and recognize that lifting testing requirements in 2020-21 will be in the students’ best interest. Taking this action will strengthen the future of our nation’s public colleges."