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Is This Finally the End of the SAT?

On May 21, the University of California Board of Regents voted on a five-year plan to phase out the SAT/ACT requirement for California students applying to the University of California system. The tests will be made optional for admissions for the next two years, then the SAT/ACT requirement will be eliminated entirely for California students the two years after that, and finally the system will move toward creating their own standardized assessment in the fifth year of the plan. (Read UC’s press release here.)

So is this the beginning of the end of the SAT/ACT as a college admissions requirement? Perhaps. It's no secret that the SAT and ACT aren't the most fair of assessments. They are coachable and predictable, they only measure how well a student does on one particular test on one particular day, and they don't accurately cover the content students are learning in their academic classes.

Over 1000 schools in the United States are already "test scores optional" for admission, with more joining those ranks in just the past few months. (Check here to see which schools are test-optional.) So can we throw our test prep books into the fireplace?

Hang on, before you light those matches. Let’s look at a couple of things about this announcement that may show those tests are a little more entrenched than UC would like to admit.

  1. The requirement is only being eliminated for students who live in California. Non-resident students will still be required to submit standardized test scores. High school courses in California have been pre-approved by the UC system, so the schools know what content is covered. Without those pre-approved courses, it’s quite challenging for UC admissions to assess nonresident students in a fair and practical way. So they’ll be using ACT and SAT scores.

  2. The UC system recognizes the need for a standardized test. They’ve said that they will be working towards creating their own standardized test that will be used for the 10-campus system. UC President Janet Napolitano said, “We are removing the ACT/SAT requirement for California students and developing a new test that more closely aligns with what we expect incoming students to know to demonstrate their preparedness for UC.” So rather than actually eliminating the testing requirement, they’re simply shifting it to a new test (And for those students in CA who are also applying to schools out-of-state, there will be the burden of the UC standardized test plus the SAT or ACT.)

  3. The state system will still be using test scores for purposes such as course placement and certain scholarships. I do find it telling that the system claims these scores aren’t representative of students’ knowledge and abilities, but they’re still planning to use them to award merit money and course credit. Students looking for a financial or academic edge will still absolutely want to submit the best SAT/ACT scores they can.

So what does this mean for the future of standardized tests as we know them? It depends, honestly. Things will be a little (lot?) weird for the class of 2021 as schools try to navigate the strangeness of college applications in a season without in-person classes or spring standardized tests. While some folks are predicting a dramatic decrease in the importance placed on these tests, I expect they’re around for a while longer.

When schools no longer use them for merit money or course placement, and states stop using them as benchmark exams (NC uses the ACT as a benchmark for all high school juniors, for example), that’s when I think we’ll know the tests are on their way out. Until then, keep those test prep books handy.

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