The University of California was threatened with a lawsuit last week if they do not drop their requirement that prospective students take standardized tests including the ACT and SAT.
The threat came in a letter written by attorneys representing a coalition including students, the Compton Unified School District, and several other college-related organizations.
“Our individual clients are well-qualified students who have been subject to unlawful discrimination on the basis of race, disability, and wealth as a result of the requirement that applicants to the University of California submit SAT or ACT scores in order to be considered for admission to any campus," read the letter. “We write to demand that the University of California immediately stop this discriminatory practice.”
This is the latest development in what has been a year of uncertainty for organizations like ACT and the College Board, which administers the SAT.
From September 2018 to September 2019, almost 50 accredited colleges and universities dropped their requirement that prospective students take the SAT or ACT, according to the the Washington Post. The total number of colleges no longer requiring standardized tests now exceeds 1,000.
Additionally, the University of California employed a task force at the beginning of this year to evaluate the effectiveness of standardized testing in the admissions process.
The letter criticized the College Board and ACT for discriminating against underrepresented minority students, multilingual learners, and students with disabilities.
“Research demonstrates that the SAT and ACT systematically prevent talented and qualified students with less accumulated advantage—including students with less wealth, students with disabilities, and underrepresented minority students—from accessing higher education at the University of California,” said the letter.
Both the College Board and ACT released statements in response to the coalition’s letter.
“The notion that the SAT is discriminatory is false,” said Zachary Goldberg, a representative for the College Board in a written statement. “Any objective measure of student achievement will shine a light on inequalities in our education system. Our focus, with our members and partners, is combating these longstanding inequalities."
Stephen Sireci, an expert in education policy and standardized testing at UMass Amherst, echoed the College Board’s sentiment.
“It’s hard to blame the test for this,” said Sireci in an interview with Annenberg Media. “I think there would be a problem with the test if it didn’t reflect the inequities we know that exist in the system. ... The fact of the matter is that there are huge discrepancies in inequity with respect to the schools and school districts across California and the United States. To blame the test for what’s happening, I think, is pretty simple-minded.”
Several students at the University of Southern California shared their experiences with standardized tests and their thoughts on getting rid of the requirement.
Aveline Knoop, a sophomore studying economics, took the SAT twice and estimated she spent close to 100 hours studying for the test.
“I would say no — do not get rid of it," said Knoop. "As of now, it’s extremely hard for schools to go ahead and see what a student is like. It’s a good base point because even if, like say a student is extremely intelligent but they do poorly on the SAT, what that shows to me is they didn’t take it seriously.”
Ana Schuch, a sophomore majoring in electrical engineering, estimates she spent about 40 hours in SAT prep classes. While she thought this preparation helped improve her score, she acknowledged it was an advantage not all students had.
"I think it's a very good idea," said Schuch about the coalition’s letter. "I actually think that people that have the opportunity of taking the SAT multiple times and paying for it multiple times and paying for SAT prep — they have a better chance on getting a good score than people that don't have access to that. So I think removing it is a good idea."
The letter to the UC Board of Regents also cited research from UC Berkeley, which found high school grade-point-averages to be better predictors of college performance than SAT scores.
"The study finds that high-school grade point average is consistently the best predictor not only of freshman grades in college, the outcome indicator most often employed in predictive-validity studies, but of four-year college outcomes as well," says the Center for Studies in Higher Education.
Knoop, however, felt that high school GPAs were not a good way to evaluate whether a student should be accepted to a university.
“I think it’s important to have some sort of way to score [prospective students] because GPA’s are so different ... from school to school based on what’s weighted and what’s not,” said Knoop.
The SAT and ACT are each major time commitments for a college-driven high school student.
Kenny Kim, a junior studying astronautical engineering, studied for the ACT for his entire high school career.
"I spent a lot of time in tutor, but actually studying, maybe three to five hours a week," said Kim. "Basically my freshman year to my junior year of high school. ... It helped a little bit but overall not too much."
Ultimately, studying for standardized tests is a huge opportunity cost. Time spent studying is time taken away from pursuing other interests, which colleges also look for in prospective students.
When asked if he would have rather spent that time pursuing other things, Kim responded with a strong affirmative.
"Yes, definitely. As an Asian, like family, my parents just forced me to study all the time. I'd much rather be doing like other projects. I was just sent to tutor for a long time, just doing homework and SAT stuff."
The letter comes on the heels of Operation Varsity Blues, a nationwide admissions scandal in which parents bribed officials to help get their students into colleges, including USC. This included parents exploiting the accommodation systems on standardized tests to unfairly improve their students’ scores.
While the University of California has yet to respond, the school system is expected to wrap up its task force in the coming months.