SAT Alternative Fails to Meet UC Standards

Beginning Fall 2021, UC San Diego will no longer consider ACT and SAT scores in the admission of prospective undergraduates. This follows a unanimous decision by the UC Board of Regents to halt the use of the SAT and ACT for admissions decisions within the University of California due to studies that show that these standardized tests have led the UC system to overlook students of color and low-income students during the admissions process.

These findings follow former UC President Janet Napolitano’s July 2018 request to create a task force researching the effectiveness of standardized tests in gauging prospective students’ academic ability.

As such, the UC system has begun to look into alternative, more equitable means of measuring academic performance. Most recently, UC President Michael V. Drake had asked the Academic Senate to explore if Smarter Balanced could be adapted to be a suitable testing replacement.

Currently, the Smarter Balanced Assessment System consists of interim and summative assessments administered throughout and at the end of the school year to California public school students. It is based on the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) for English language arts/literacy (ELA) and mathematics. 

Some educators initially welcomed the Smarter Balanced year-end state test as a more equitable means of assessing students’ academic performance because it is based specifically on California’s core curriculum. In addition, the Smarter Balanced test is currently a low-stakes assessment, and there are no test preparation companies dedicated to this exam. 

However, the Smarter Balanced Study Group (SBSG) concluded that the Smarter Balanced assessment would not be a suitable testing replacement. In a letter to the Academic Senate Chair, SBSG co-chairs Mary Gauvain and Madeleine Sorapure asserted that high school GPA was sufficient to predict college first-year grades

“The SBSG believes that the SB assessment is not appropriate as an admissions test, required or optional, for the UC,“ they wrote. “The Smarter Balanced 11th grade test scores would add only modest incremental value beyond high school GPA in predicting college first-year grades, and would likely come at the same cost as the SAT.”

SBSG continued to explain that the Smarter Balanced assessment, similar to the SAT, reflects the disparities in access to education, which are marked by race and socioeconomic status. They argued that implementing an admissions test would inevitably lead to the proliferation of test preparation ventures for the assessment, worsening existing inequities. 

Instead of a testing replacement, the SBSG proposed a host of recommendations that would aid the UC in achieving its goals in educational equity. 

“To this end, SBSG offers recommendations for (1) building a stronger partnership with K-12, (2) bolstering the holistic review process, (3) expanding and developing resources for students after they enroll at UC, (4) conducting ongoing research regarding the efficacy of the admissions process and student success, and (5) addressing capacity limitations,” the letter said. 

The UCSD Guardian reached out to the UCSD Office of Admissions to examine how the admission process has since changed with the exclusion of SAT/ACT scores. In their response, the Office of Admissions reiterated their commitment to a holistic evaluation of each student. 

“UC San Diego has long been committed to using a holistic process to assess first-year applications, which considers many factors to help understand students fully in the context of their educational environment, background, and experiences,” someone said. “Test scores were one [of 13] factors considered in the review of first-year applications for admission. For Fall 2021, we looked even deeper into each of the other factors considered, learning more about schools, what’s available to the applicant, rigor, and the context of the applicant’s educational environment.”

The 13 factors the admissions committee may consider range from special talents, such as those in the performing arts or athletic endeavors, as well as academic achievement and rigor in the context of one’s educational environment. 

The Office of Admissions also described their encouraging observations of the admission cycle this year. During this fall cycle, students could submit their SAT and ACT scores, but these were not considered during admission.

The Office of Admissions said, “Eliminating the examination requirement may have led to an increase in overall applications, as the Fall 2021 cycle also marked the highest number of applications in UC San Diego’s history. More than one-third of first-year and over half of transfer students admitted for Fall 2021 were first-generation, with UC San Diego admitting the most transfer students — and the most transfer students from California (10,177) — among all the University of California campuses.”

To find out more information about the UC System’s admission process, prospective students can visit the University of California’s website to learn more. Prospective undergraduates and transfers interested in UCSD specifically can visit UCSD’s admission website as well.  

Picture by Coolcesar for Wikimedia

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