California’s Phasing Out of the SAT and ACT Is the Right Move

Many colleges and universities had made the SAT and ACT optional for the 2020 fall applicants due to the COVID-19 pandemic disrupting testing dates for high school seniors.


But the governing board of the California college system (10 schools with some of the nation’s most popular campuses) took a giant leap forward by voting unanimously to not consider SAT and ACT scores for an additional two years for in-state applicants (standardized tests would be used to assess out-of-state students).


But by 2025, the SAT or ACT would not be considered for any student admission in the California college system, in or out of state.


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




According to FairTest, already 1,230 colleges and universities in the U.S. have made the SAT and ACT optional, including prestigious schools like University of Chicago, Vassar, Amherst.


But the California system (with marquee schools like UCLA, UC Berkeley, among others) joining the schools not using SAT or ACT is certainly going to set a new trend nationwide.


Opening doors to many students 
The movement to end the SAT and ACT as admissions requirements for colleges and universities is much welcomed. Standardized tests historically have shut the door on many deserving students unfairly. The most egregious example are students who have good high school G.P.A.s but underperform on these standardized tests, and are denied admission to universities. 


Ending the SAT and ACT will reverse this unfair system for this group of hard-working students.


No single test should have that much influence in determining the future options of students. The SAT and ACT have been the biggest obstacle to college for students from poor families. Students from wealthy families have the advantage of going to prep schools, receiving extra tutoring to prepare for the SAT and ACT. 


Rich kids train for these tests as early as middle school. They also frequently take prep tests designed to boost their SAT scores. Many of these prep schools also offer more AP classes than public schools, better preparing students for the SAT. 


And on taking the actual SAT, students from wealthier families tend to take it several times. Students from poor households tend to take the test once.


Eye-opening studies

SAT Scores Correlated to Family Income 
UC Berkeley researcher Saul Geiser found when he used high school G.P.A. to identify the top 10 percent of Californians applying for admission to the U.C. system, 23 percent of the pool was black and Latino. When he used SAT scores to identify the top 10 percent, 5 percent was black or Latino. The study showed family income was highly correlated to SAT performance.


Supporting this claim is another study done by Inside Higher Ed. Their analysis found that the lowest average scores of SAT takers were students from families who make less than $20,000; while the highest averages came from students from families who make more than $200,000.


Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Southern California also found evidence that economic class has a builtin advantage or disadvantage for the SAT. There are numerous other studies drawing the same conclusion.


G.P.A. is a better predictor of College Success than the SAT.
In another study conducted by the College Board, researchers compared two groups: the first was students who had low GPAs but did well on the SAT; the second group was students with high G.P.A.s but did not do as well on the SAT. The second group outperformed the first group in college, which indicated that SAT is not as good a predictor as high school G.P.A in how well students do in college. 


In fact, researchers found the best predictor of college success is high school G.P.A. yet the SAT is given too much emphasis on admissions.


Correct structural bias
Education is promoted as the great equalizer. This is true to an extent. But students have a different starting point, with students from lower-income families having to make greater leaps and take longer journeys.


If we are to continue promoting education as the great equalizer, there needs to be a fairer system, a more equal playing field. Eliminating the SAT and ACT will do wonders in breaking that wall. As studies show, G.P.A. is a much fairer system (and a better predictor of college success) to have as the main metric for admittance to college.


The College Board administers the SAT and the ACT Inc. is responsible for the ACT. Both are nonprofits but have been criticized as mostly caring about their bottom line. The test-taking and test-prepping industry is a billion-plus dollar industry. As all special interest groups with money of this magnitude, there will be resistance to change.


California should be commended for doing the right thing. Their governing board set a revolutionary precedent this month to correct structural bias in their educational system. The rest of the country should consider doing the same. If colleges and universities are not willing to go as far as eliminating the SAT and ACT, they should at least adjust their admissions criteria to put less emphasis on these standardized tests and more emphasis on G.P.A. and other factors.


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