California State University Permanently Ends Standardized Test Requirements for Admissions

California State University Permanently Ends Standardized Test Requirements for Admissions
SAT test preparation books sit on a shelf at a Barnes and Noble store in New York City on June 27, 2002. (Mario Tama/Getty Images)
Bill Pan

California State University, the largest public university system in the United States, on Wednesday said it will no longer use college entrance exams in undergraduate admissions.

The change means that applicants may still submit their SAT or ACT scores if they wish to do so, but admissions counselors at Cal State will not look at them. Instead, Cal State universities will utilize a “multi-factored admission criteria” to determine each applicant’s eligibility.

“This decision aligns with the California State University’s continued efforts to level the playing field and provide greater access to a high-quality college degree for students from all backgrounds,” said Steve Relyea, Cal State’s acting chancellor. “In essence, we are eliminating our reliance on a high-stress, high-stakes test that has shown negligible benefit and providing our applicants with greater opportunities to demonstrate their drive, talents and potential for college success.”

The Cal State system now joins the University of California (UC), the governing board of which unanimously voted in May 2020 to temporarily stop requiring SAT or ACT scores before voting again last November to not consider standardized tests at all in future undergraduate admissions.

Both Cal State and UC administrators suspended standardized test requirements during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic as a temporary measure to accommodate the impact of the public health restrictions, including limited access to SAT testing locations due to widespread school closures. But these decisions eventually became permanent.

The two systems collectively enroll nearly 800,000 students. Given the influence they have, their admission practices may encourage higher education policymakers in California and beyond to follow the suit.

Robert Schaeffer, the executive director of anti-testing advocacy group FairTest, said that the Cal State system has “set a standard for public institutions around the country.”

“Combined with the elimination of standardized exam mandates by the University of California system as well as test-optional policies in place at all public campuses in Oregon and Washington State, these actions make the West Coast a national model for admissions reform,” said Schaeffer.

The ACT criticized the move, arguing that it is more likely to harm than help students, especially those of underrepresented demographics who depend on standardized test scores to showcase their academic achievements.

“Abandoning the use of objective assessments like the ACT test introduces greater subjectivity and uncertainty into the admissions process, and this decision is likely to worsen entrenched inequities in California,” the ACT said in a statement. “Troubling differentials in educational outcomes and performance appear in the same way for academic measures like high school GPA as they do for standardized exams.”

“Solving the prevailing, systemic education inequities that exist in this country requires attention and focus on root causes, rather than dismissing the tools that substantially improve our understanding of them,” the testing company added.