Why the UC Decision Probably Means More–Not Less–Testing
In a stark and sudden departure, the University of California (UC) system announced last week that it was moving away from the SAT and ACT. In its announcement, the UC Board of Regents voted unanimously to make submission of the SAT/ACT optional to applicants of UC schools over the next two years, and then become test-blind for entering freshman for the fall of 2023 and 2024. Many have been quick to see this as a sign that standardized testing has run its course, and that the ACT and SAT are becoming obsolete. Despite this development, reports of the death of standardized testing are greatly exaggerated. Although the ACT and the College Board will lose tens of thousands of California test takers from this move (and thus millions in revenue), one of the most significant takeaways from the announcement was that the UC system will create and implement its own admission test. It’s unclear what the UC’s new test—which will take millions of dollars to research and create—will ultimately look like. In public statements, UC stakeholders have lambasted current standardized tests as “intrinsically discriminatory” that “advantage higher income students.” While we applaud any efforts to eliminate discriminatory aspects of the testing system, we also express skepticism regarding what this will mean in terms of actual, concrete changes. We also have genuine curiosity as to how a new test can address unfairness and discrimination in ways previous iterations failed. Some questions on our mind: are certain reading passages currently in use by The College Board or ACT “discriminatory,” as the UC Board alleges? If so, on what grounds? Is it unfair—or discriminatory—to subject certain students to reading stilted, historic prose that clearly diverges from how we speak and write now? And what about math questions…are numbers or word problems in current versions of the SAT or ACT discriminatory? Details have been sparse, and the UC press releases have been confined thus far to platitudes rather than discussion of actual, substantive alterations. Our worry, though, is that this new testing alternative will ultimately lead to the following:
Students will end up taking more, not fewer, standardized tests. California students who seek to apply to schools outside of California will need to take the normal SAT/ACT (at least during the first few years of the rollout), while out-of-state students who wish to apply to California schools will need to take the UC test, in addition to the SAT or ACT. All of these changes only compound the testing headaches that students already have to endure.
The student population of UC schools will become less, not more, geographically diverse. Out-of-state students currently make up 18 percent of the population at UC schools. If the new test is required at UC schools, the number of out-of-state students would likely drop significantly.
Further testing arbitrage from families with financial resources. If yet another test becomes available for students to take, this might in fact backfire on one of the principal goals of the new test. Similar to how students now pick and choose the SAT or ACT based on suitability—choosing to take the test on which they’re likely to score more competitively—the introduction of yet another test gives these same students an opportunity to outcompete peers without these resources.
A boon for education companies. No one yet knows exactly how much this new test will cost to create. But it is reasonable to conclude millions will be spent on its research and development, leading to a potential windfall for organizations like the ETS (Educational Testing Service), which currently administers statewide assessments to California K-12 students.
We would much prefer to see the state of California work aggressively and proactively with the makers of the SAT and ACT to improve the current testing framework. That being said, a third test in college admissions might not be all bad. We tend to think of greater choice in standardized testing as a good thing for students and their families. We also believe that the stated goals of the new test are certainly admirable and worthy of pursuit (even if difficult to achieve in practice). Instead of marking the end of standardized testing, the UC decision seems to point towards a new, unfamiliar chapter. We will continue to monitor developments on the UC test, and we will inform parents of any new updates.