U of California groups recommend Smarter Balanced test to replace SAT, ACT

Dive Brief:

  • Two University of California advisory groups suggest the system explores modifying an existing standardized test for use in admissions.

  • However, they recommend against the exam being used as a way to select students for entry across its campuses.

  • More than 1,680 four-year colleges are not requiring applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores in light of the pandemic. However, UC’s decisions on admissions tests are widely anticipated to influence their longer-term future nationwide.

Dive Insight:

The UC governing board voted in May to largely discontinue the use of entrance exams, dealing a major blow to the College Board and ACT, which rely heavily on revenue the tests generate. A federal judge later ruled, and an appeals court upheld, that the system couldn’t use the SAT or ACT when making decisions on admissions or scholarships for fall 2021. 

As part of the system’s initial move to phase out the tests, its leaders said they would study whether they could create or adapt an admissions test to be available for fall 2025 applicants. 

The recommendations of the two UC groups, which include faculty, administrators and outside test experts, were released this week. They said it wasn’t feasible to craft an entirely new exam under the system’s timeline. However, they said the Smarter Balanced test, administered annually to California high school juniors, could be adjusted for admissions purposes. 

One panel wrote in its findings, however, that using Smarter Balanced scores to select students for admission would raise the stakes around the test in a way the system wanted to avoid. If the test doesn’t meet the system’s needs, however, the group said it should forgo entrance exams for undergraduate admissions entirely.

The other group went further, recommending against requiring students to submit a Smarter Balanced score and instead saying it could be an optional data point in the application review process.

UC’s regents are due to discuss the issue at their meeting next week.

Opponents of the SAT and ACT have long argued the tests are unfair to historically disadvantaged students, in part because their affluent counterparts can afford extensive test prep, thus boosting their scores and giving them an edge in admissions. Test questions are also worded in a prejudicial manner, critics contend. 

As the pandemic forced test sites to shut down or reduce capacity this past spring, creating extensive barriers for many students to take the exams, most four-year colleges made the scores optional, with Florida’s public colleges being a notable exception.

Some institutions have since extended such policies, including Baylor University, in Texas, and the California State University System.

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