The report, ordered by UC President Janet Napolitano more than a year ago, was released Monday at a time when a record number of colleges and universities — more than 1,000 — are making test scores optional for admissions and amid growing disenchantment with the tests nationally. Critics cite research showing that standardized tests discriminate on the basis of race, income and the education level of a student’s parents. Those allegations are denied by the College Board, which owns the SAT, and ACT Inc., which owns the ACT exam.
The task force members concluded, however, that UC uses the test scores in a way that does not discriminate but rather may help identify blacks, Latinos and students from low-income families who might otherwise be overlooked. Still, in a seemingly contradictory recommendation, the 18-member Standardized Testing Task Force called for the creation of a UC-specific admissions test that could take nine years to fully implement.
Critics immediately questioned the recommendations, and one said a conflict of interest exists because the College Board and ACT are listed as consultants to the task force.
Napolitano made clear in a statement that the recommendations were not final and that the use of test scores for admission to the system, which has more than 222,000 undergraduates, would continue to be studied “through a careful, fact-based approach so as to arrive at the most informed decision possible.”
The college admissions world has been awaiting the report because of UC’s influence on standardized testing. A 2001 proposal by then-UC President Richard C. Atkinson to stop using the SAT for admissions spurred the College Board to add an essay in 2005, although it was later dropped as a requirement by many schools.
A final decision on whether UC should go test-optional is expected to be made this spring by the governing Board of Regents, and while overturning a faculty recommendation is highly unusual, it is not impossible.
In October, California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) vetoed a bill that would have allowed public high schools to substitute the SAT or the ACT for an 11th-grade accountability exam, saying in his veto message that “their use exacerbates the inequities for underrepresented students, given that performance on these tests is highly correlated with race and parental income, and is not the best predictor for college success.”
The Compton, Calif., school district, along with other parties, recently sued state officials, demanding that the UC system drop the use of test scores in admissions.
Members of the faculty task force, though, pointed to the tests’ predictive power for measures of student success such as “undergraduate grade point average (UGPA), retention, and completion. At UC, test scores are currently better predictors of first-year GPA than high school grade point average (HSGPA), and about as good at predicting first-year retention, UGPA, and graduation.”
The task force said it found evidence that UC admissions officers put each applicant’s test scores “into context by comparing them to all applicants from the same school,” allowing those who read applications to see who performed “exceptionally well given available opportunities.”
“Given the state of research and UC’s size and unique system … it was not clear that going ‘test-optional’ would increase diversity of incoming classes, and the likely impact on preparation of incoming classes was not clear.”
Bob Schaeffer, interim executive director of the National Center for Fair & Open Testing, a nonprofit that works to stop misuse of standardized tests, said some of the task force’s findings conflict with those of other researchers who have studied UC admissions policies, and he asked the task force to make public the data it used to make its recommendations.
Larry Ferlazzo, a veteran high school teacher in Sacramento who has taught at UC as an adjunct faculty member, said, “I’m very disappointed, confused and concerned by the faculty recommendation.” He added: “I’m disappointed because requiring the SAT or ACT in college admission is an obvious additional barrier to many of our English-language learners and other students. I’m confused because most studies, including one that came out last week, find that GPA is a better predictor of college success than ACT/SAT scores.”
In 2019, 37 percent of the California resident students in the admitted UC freshman class — and 26 percent of all admitted students — were Latino, African American or Native American students. But about 59 percent of the state’s high school graduates were from those groups. The report says the difference “is a matter of concern.”