Last month, citing the pandemic, UC suspended its requirement for an ACT or SAT score from those who apply for the fall 2021 class. Many testing sessions around the country have been postponed or canceled this spring, hindering high school juniors who are trying to line up their credentials to apply to college.
Napolitano, in a memo to the Board of Regents made public Monday, said she wants to go further. She asked the board to continue its “test optional” policy through fall 2022. Under test-optional procedures, applicants can submit a score if they think it will help them. Napolitano also urged a more sweeping mandate to omit the SAT and ACT entirely from admission decisions in 2023 and 2024 for any student who attends a public or private high school in California. The language of the memo appears to indicate that this two-year “test blind” proposal would not apply to out-of-state applicants.
But such a policy would be a major change and could send shock waves through the higher education world.
By 2025, Napolitano’s memo said, “any use of the ACT/SAT would be eliminated for California students and a new, UC-based test would be required.” If a new test were not ready, the memo said, “consideration of the ACT/SAT would still be eliminated for California students.”
Napolitano also urged the board to jettison UC’s requirement for applicants to take a version of the admission tests that includes an essay exam. Most competitive schools have already dropped that mandate. The optional essay, which was introduced years ago with vocal support from UC, is a major chore for students who take either test. But it appears to be falling out of favor.
The College Board, which owns the SAT, declined to comment.
On Tuesday, the ACT testing organization said it is evaluating Napolitano’s recommendations. “Her position contradicts those of the UC’s standardized testing task force and the UC senate, both of which have recommended the continued requirement of test scores,” ACT said. The organization added: “ACT respects the right of every college to determine its own admission policies, particularly in the midst of a crisis such as COVID-19 where flexibility and managing disruption is paramount.” It reiterated its view that scores add “meaningful insight and significant value” to the admissions process.
Both testing agencies have raised the possibility of at-home admissions testing in the fall if high schools and other testing centers are unable to reopen. That idea — a major departure from the long-standing custom of testing students under the watch of live proctors — has drawn skepticism. But the College Board and ACT both maintain that it would be a viable approach.
Napolitano, president of UC since 2013 and a former U.S. homeland security secretary, is scheduled to step down in August.
Her recommendation could provoke strong debate within UC. A faculty task force in February recommended keeping the ACT/SAT requirement for applicants after finding evidence that admission officers put scores “into context by comparing them to all applicants from the same school.” That type of analysis, the task force said, allowed those who read applications to see who performed “exceptionally well given available opportunities.”
UC is one of the most prominent public universities in the world. In 2019, university data show, more than 176,000 students applied for freshman admission to at least one of its nine undergraduate campuses.
The Board of Regents is scheduled to take up the testing policy on May 21.
This article has been updated.