UC System Drops the ACT and SAT

Recently, the University of California School System announced it will end the use of ACT and SAT scores for admissions. You can read about it here: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/21/us/university-california-sat-act.html

The logic behind the move is that these tests favor affluent students who can afford to hire tutors and to take the exam multiple times.

“These tests are extremely flawed and very unfair,” said Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, a member of the board who supported the decision, adding, “Enough is enough.”

In the meantime, the university will do a study on the feasibility of creating its own admissions test, perhaps in collaboration with other California schools.

Kounalakis is right: these tests are absolutely flawed and unfair, and they absolutely favor students from affluent families. What’s not clear, however, is that the alternative is any better.

The SAT and ACT were created to compare students from different schools with different levels of difficulty. It was a counter to the then-standard practice of elite colleges favoring students from wealthy, East Coast private schools. Believe it not, these tests originally leveled the playing field for students from low-income families.

Ironically, they now make the playing field way more uneven. That said, doing away with them doesn’t suddenly make everything perfect. Admissions teams still have to evaluate students, and without standardized test scores, they’re left with grades, admission essays and school activities. All of these still benefit students from wealthy families who can afford to take on extracurricular activities and can pay for tutors for school and admission essays. If you think a tutor can make a big difference with a test score, wait until you see what they can do with an essay!

The mistake the UC System makes is misunderstanding the problem. The issue is not a specific test; the issue is a fundamental and systemic problem with our entire educational system. The SAT and ACT just expose this problem with big neon signs and a bullhorn. What we need to do is fix the system, and this is a slow process. To start, we need to make sure these tests are fair and we need more free test prep. We need to address the mindset many students have that they can’t do well on these tests. This is already being done by online programs such as Khan Academy and non-profits such as Prep for Prep, but we need much more.

These solutions don’t generate the headlines and promote the self-congratulatory back-patting that ending the SAT and ACT requirements do, but they actually address the real issue, which is going to return around UC admissions within four years, because ending test requirements treats only the symptoms of our educational problem and not the cause. We should be focusing on making these tests better and on increasing opportunities for the underserved students in our society. Until then, we’re just substituting one unfair system for another.

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