Judge Single-Handedly Abolishes Use of Standardized Tests in University of California Admissions

Written by Ainsley Jackman

In the world of college admissions, the age long debate on standardized testing has at last come to head. Dissenters have long advocated for ending the use of standardized tests in admissions completely, claiming that they put students with disabilities and students of color at a disadvantage, while higher-income students have an advantage with expensive test prep and tutoring.

Meanwhile, colleges claim they need a standard way to evaluate academic ability, as there is no objective standard across vastly different high schools. Most of the time, students with disabilities are allowed provisions to compensate, and most colleges keep the financial circumstances of students in mind when evaluating applications for this exact reason. There was also a recent study from a UC faculty committee that found the SAT was not at all discriminatory.

But the COVID-19 pandemic changed things in college admissions as it has everywhere else. With schools shutting down and restrictions on group sizes being implemented, standardized tests were cancelled all over the country. Test centers are just now starting to reopen, but still without enough spots available for all applying high school seniors to take them in time for their applications. Disabled students in particular are having difficulties finding testing centers that provide the extra resources they need.

With this in mind, nearly every major college and university in the country has switched to a “test-optional” policy for at least next year, allowing students to submit test scores only if they choose to do so.

The University of California also made this change, removing the testing requirement for the whole UC system back in May, but leaving it up to individual schools if they wanted to go fully “test-blind,” meaning that scores are not even considered, regardless of whether the student has sent them. The idea is that although colleges claim that not having a test score will never put you at a disadvantage in the admissions office, they do sometimes work as a “plus factor” that inspires a second look at otherwise subpar applications. UC Berkely and two other schools already chose to go test-blind for this admission cycle.

But in a recent ruling in Smith v. Regents of the University of California, state trial judge Brad Seligman issued a preliminary injunction that would force all UC schools to become completely test-blind instead of merely test-optional. Although the injunction would only officially last so long as accommodations for the disabled are unavailable, it’s clear that Seligman is using this as a stepping stool toward a permanent change for other reasons. “UC does not seriously argue that the test is a valid and effective means of determining admissions nor does it deny that non-disabled, economically advantaged, and white test takers have an inherent advantage in the test process,” Seligman argued.

This is despite the abundant evidence to the contrary. Regardless of his personal position on standardized testing in admissions, Seligman has stepped well beyond his bounds by using a temporary situation created by the COVID-19 pandemic to further his own political beliefs. This is yet another example of an individual taking advantage of the power afforded to him by the current crisis to push his own policies—a theme that is unfortunately becoming all too familiar.


Photo by Bill Oxford