Written by Miguel Palacios
For decades, colleges and universities have been using standardized tests like the SAT, formerly known as the Scholastic Aptitude Test and the Scholastic Assessment Test, and the ACT, formerly known as the American College Test, to assess students for admission to their programs. These standardized tests measure students’ abilities in areas like Math, English Reading and Verbal Skills, and Science Reasoning.
Last week, in response to a lawsuit filed by the Compton Unified School District and a collection of advocacy groups, the University of California system, which manages the admissions of nine California university campuses, decided to call for an end to the use of SAT and ACT scores for making admissions decisions.
The lawsuit alleged that the SAT and ACT were not used for measuring student’s abilities but primarily for measuring the wealth and privilege of students and their parents. In other words, the use of SAT and ACT scores gave wealthy students an unfair advantage over students of lower socioeconomic statuses.
That is because preparation for SAT and ACT tests is not provided by most public schools but it is still necessary to do well on these tests to be admitted into four-year universities. That means that students, or more realistically, the parents of students, have to pay for prep classes for these tests or purchase practice materials that will prepare the student for the exam. This is not an issue for the families on the wealthier end of the financial spectrum, but it poses a major issue for those on the opposite side. If one cannot afford to take the prep classes or buy the study materials necessary to do well on the exams, then the only people who do well on the exams are the children of wealthy privileged families.
This change to admissions requirements has come early, as the UC system initially stated it was going to phase out the use of standardized test scores by 2025. But not all are in agreement on this change. The SAT is administered by the non-profit organization, The College Board. They believe that standardized tests, specifically the SAT, help universities increase student diversity. They also believe that colleges and universities should allow students to submit their standardized test scores if they choose and still utilize them for admission consideration if voluntarily submitted.
The problem with doing so is that it would still give those students who submitted test scores an advantage over those who did not. In a way, it would tell universities that the students who submitted scores are smarter, more confident, and more dedicated than those who did not. The only way to completely level the playing field is the route that the UC system took, which is to stop the decades-long practice of evaluating students by their scores and to make those scores obsolete and valueless. California’s UC system has made it clear that test scores will no longer be a factor in admissions decisions and even if students submit test scores to the universities, the scores will not be evaluated whatsoever.
Mark Rosenbaum was the lead counsel for the plaintiffs of the settlement, and when the decision came down, he stated, “The historic settlement announced today marks an end to a sordid chapter in the history of the University of California… The Regents’ stubborn insistence over generations upon the usage of the SAT and ACT despite indisputable evidence that these exams only measured family wealth cost hundreds of thousands of talented students of color a fair opportunity to matriculate in their state’s system of higher education.” Though the students who have missed those opportunities will not be compensated for their losses, this decision ensures that the students of today and tomorrow will not face the same problem.
Photo via UC San Diego