During late January, the UC Student Association circulated a petition for students to describe how standardized testing impacted their academic journey. One student powerfully stated, “I believe that the SAT and ACT requirement affected many students from my low-income community. We would have to pay (for) the tutoring classes or books out of our own pockets, but we didn’t because our parents couldn’t afford it. When it comes to our education, we should level the playing field so people from disadvantaged communities have the opportunity to succeed.”
Research from the College Board shows a positive correlation between test scores and higher family income with wealthier students overall performing better than low-income students. Access to test preparation is critical to performing well since it’s important to know how to take these tests. Tutoring for these tests can run up to $100 an hour. The average sticker price for the exams are about $65 each and submitting test scores to up to 10 schools costs around $72. The story above, like many others, is one of the many reasons we must stop the mandatory use of standardized testing in admissions decisions.
The history of these tests illustrate racial and economic barriers in academia. During the 19th century, psychologist Carl Brigham developed the foundation for aptitude tests used by the army during World War I. He believed and also claimed in his research that Black people in the U.S. were the least intelligent racial group and could only be smarter if they had a “greater admixture of white blood.” His biased views and research influenced the creation of the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). Cultural bias still exists in the SAT and ACT because it asks questions that are culturally relevant for white middle-class test takers. A previous study done by Jay Rosner showed that these testing agencies continued using similar questions that white students performed well in and not questions that Black students excelled in. Combating criticism, SAT then reshaped their tests to remove analogy questions.
Black, Latinx, Pacific Islander and indigenous students are still heavily underrepresented at UC Berkeley, and Black students in particular are enrolling at other colleges due to the UC’s lack of diversity. This past fall, Chancellor Christ sent out a campuswide message announcing an undergraduate diversity project, and shared that UC Berkeley has the lowest proportion of underrepresented minority students of all UC undergraduate campuses.
The holistic profile of every student should be taken into account if the university truly cares about its background, talent and potential. In a recent study that looked at 28 universities and over 900,000 applications, several scholars found that standardized testing failed to accurately predict undergraduate college success. Students are more than their SAT and ACT scores.
There is a national movement rethinking the utility of standardized testing. This past June, the University of Chicago stopped requiring applicants to submit their SAT or ACT test scores. Instead, the university made the submission optional, expanded financial aid and now offers paid summer internships for first-generation students.
Making the submission of standardized testing scores optional will benefit the UC and the state of California. It is a step in leveling the playing field and reflecting the state’s diversity. When other colleges and universities made the submissions of test results optional, they saw an increase in applicants and enrollment of Black and Latinx students. The UC can see the numbers of Black and Latinx applicants and SIR (Statement of Intent to Register) return to the levels they were at before Proposition 209, which banned affirmative action in admissions. By law, the UC can only go so far to make targeted efforts in promoting racial and economic equity. Since Prop. 209, applications and enrollment from underrepresented students of color has decreased and the UC continues to struggle with enrolling more Black students.
The UC is one of the most prestigious college systems, but dropping standardized testing requirement will not make it any less prestigious. The university already looks at multiple factors in applicants including GPA, household income, personal statements, community service and work history. Undergraduate applicants should have the agency to decide whether or not their test scores reflect their best work. The UC’s use of holistic review will strengthen if applicants have that autonomy. Students can show they’re attractive and qualified applicants even if they perform poorly elsewhere. A world-class university system will soon have to demonstrate its leadership in promoting equity to the world. Removing standardized testing requirements is one viable solution.
At the UC, faculty are already taking charge on this issue. Currently, the Academic Senate has worked with the Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools (BOARS) to create the Standardized Testing Task Force. This task force is conducting a study on how accurately ACT and SAT scores predict a student’s qualifications for admission. UC students should make it known loud and clear how they stand on this issue. Recently, the ASUC Senate passed a resolution supporting an optional test policy. Students must mobilize the UC to end standardized testing as an undergraduate admission requirement. Students deserve the choice to decide whether their SAT or ACT score makes it into their application. The moment is now for students to change history and more equitably shape the future landscape of higher education.
Daniel Cano is the university affairs director of the University of California Student Association and an alumnus of UC Irvine.