UC Task Force Examines Merits of SAT, ACT Admissions Tests

October 30, 2019 Updated: October 30, 2019

Anxiety over the future of SATs and ACTs is taking its toll not only on the nerves of prospective students of University of California (UC) schools, but on makers of the admissions tests—and a task force that is reviewing them.

Last year, at the request of UC President Janet Napolitano, the special faculty Standardized Testing Task Force was formed to “examine the current use of standardized testing for UC admission.” Its mission is to “review the testing principles developed in 2002 and revised in 2010, and determine whether any changes in admission testing policies or practices are necessary.”

Consisting of 17 UC professors and one student representative, the task force will look at the pros and cons of mandatory SAT and ACT tests currently used in the admissions process for all nine UC campuses in the state. It began meeting in February and is expected to deliver its recommendations by early next year.

Eddie Comeaux, task force co-chair, said the panel has spent the better part of the year listening to experts on the issue of standardized testing.

“We’re doing a lot at this point. I can’t get into the specifics of what we’re doing just so that we’re not confusing the public in terms of our effort,” Comeaux told The Epoch Times. “But, I will say that for the first year of this task force, we spent time bringing in content experts to get a sense of how they were thinking through standardized tests—whether it was the College Board, ACT leadership, or other academics and researchers across the country who are engaged in this work—and trying to put forth a set of recommendations about what we think the path forward should be.”

Comeaux, an associate professor of higher education at UC Riverside, who also chairs the Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools (BOARS), the faculty panel that sets UC admissions standards, said the task force has come under pressure recently with some state members of the Board of Regents and state legislators getting impatient for results.

“Right now, we’ve got a pretty short timeline to get out recommendations to President Napolitano … We’re looking at SATs. We’re looking at ACTs. We’re even looking at Smarter Balanced,” he said.

Once the task force releases its report, the findings will go BOARS for further scrutiny before any potential policy changes are implemented. But no matter what is decided, Comeaux said UC applicants will have plenty of notice if any changes to admissions policies are made.

“It would not be like a surprise whatever we do—any adjustment,” he said.

Supporters of standardized tests argue that getting rid of SATs and ACTs could hurt academic quality and result in high school grade inflation.

“All this is premature, so I don’t want to speculate beyond what we’re doing. I don’t want to mislead folks,” Comeaux said.“But that is true … even as we still have SATs, questions about grade inflation continue to be a topic of conversation.”

At a recent Board of Regents meeting, an impromptu discussion over whether UC really needs to wait for the task force’s study rather than simply scrapping the tests ruffled some feathers, prompting Napolitano to urge the board to let the task force finish its work.

“We’re going to do our work,” Comeaux said. “We believe in shared government, and we believe in being thoughtful in the way we approach this. I understand there are pressures, but hey, I can’t get caught up in that, and we can’t be caught up in that, so we’re going to get our work done … and we’ll be confident that what we’re putting forth is well supported with the best available data.”

When it comes to taking admissions tests, the National Center for Fair and Open Testing (FairTest) wants to leave the decision up to each student.

FairTest Public Education Director Bob Schaeffer told The Epoch Times that SAT and ACT test scores aren’t an accurate indicator of how well students will perform in college.

The non-profit group was formed in 1985 “by leaders of national civil rights, education reform, feminist and student groups, and educators to serve as the nation’s independent monitor of the standardized testing industry and advocate for better forms of assessment than fill-in-the-bubbles exams,” Schaeffer said.

Standardized testing is unfair to low-income, racial and ethnic minorities, and new immigrants while students from more affluent families often enjoy the benefit of “test prep steroids to boost their scores in the form of coaching, tutors, or illegal activities that we see every day in the news now,” Shaeffer said, referring to the college admissions scandal involving Hollywood elites.

Since the late 1980s, FairTest has been the leader of the national test-optional movement, he said.

“We’ve seen tremendous success growth from literally a couple dozen schools at our first count to now 1,050 schools. We favor making admissions tests—SAT and ACT—optional in the process of evaluating applications,” Schaeffer said.

Schaeffer accused the makers of standardized tests of caring more about their profits than college students, claiming the standardized-testing industry is a “self-perpetuating” billion-dollar-a-year industry based on “self-interest.”

About 80 percent of applicants at UC campuses take the SAT test, which is owned by a company called the College Board.

The tests cost about $60 and take about 3.5 hours to complete, Schaeffer said.

“We support elimination of the ACT/SAT requirement for the UC system and for CSU institutions as well,” said Schaeffer, adding schools that have gone test-optional have not suffered a loss of academic quality, but get more diversity. “Test-optional admissions are a win-win.”

For many students, especially those who grew up in the No Child Left Behind era and “feel they have been tested to death,” Schaeffer said test-optional schools allow them to be “evaluated as more than a score—as a holistic human being” whose performance both inside and outside of school “means more than a one-day bubble test.”

“I think there is growing sympathy for reducing or eliminating standardized tests in the admissions process for the UC system and there is a separate investigation underway for the, CSU or California State University system,” he said. “But how far UC goes is the big unknown.”

Napolitano announced last month she will step down in August 2020 after leading the California public university system for seven years. Under her leadership, UC sued the Trump administration’s Department of Homeland Security (DHS) over its decision not to renew the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that she created during her time as DHS secretary in the Obama Administration from 2009 to 2013. The DACA case will go before the U.S. Supreme Court in November.