Students are more than standardized test scores

UNIVERSITY AFFAIRS: Put a discussion about standardized tests on the UC Board of Regents agenda.

Illustration of scissors cutting through UC application
Alexander Hong/Senior Staff

Studying at a UC school is an opportunity that should be open to people from all walks of life. Yet one particular application component often makes that opportunity less accessible: standardized tests.

A group of lawyers recently sent a letter to the UC Board of Regents asking the university to consider dropping the standardized testing requirement, alleging that the SAT and ACT discriminate against students with disabilities, underrepresented minorities and low-income students. While the College Board does not intentionally skew against students from these communities, it’s not too far of a stretch to say that standardized tests benefit the better off.

The College Board did take some steps to rectify these concerns — the new SAT, launched in 2016, reportedly included an effort to make the test more equal across the board — but the SAT is still expensive. The exam without the essay portion is about $50, but since the essay component is “strongly recommended” by many universities, students end up paying $65 per exam. And since there isn’t a limit to the number of times you can take the exam, students end up shelling out hundreds of dollars in attempts to improve their score. 

These standardized tests are meant to be tricky. But with a little bit of tutoring — in other words, having someone coach you through the SAT’s common pitfalls — you can drastically improve your score once you learn specific tips and tricks. Standardized testing tutors cost a pretty penny, though; students from financially disadvantaged backgrounds often can’t afford to spend thousands of dollars on private tutors, contributing to a discrepancy in scores and fostering a correlation between expensive test preparation and improved performance.

That’s not to say that the SAT or ACT don’t provide useful information in certain cases. For example, if a student had a tough time in high school and ended up with a less-than-stellar transcript, a high SAT score could help to bolster that student’s application. But it’s important to recognize that the reverse can happen, too — students who perform well in the classroom might struggle with standardized testing. A student’s ability to learn and process information over time is a better indicator of how they’ll fare in college, rather than something more fleeting, such as their standardized test-taking skills.

Despite the letter being sent so close to next week’s board meeting, the agenda doesn’t include any scheduled discussion of the standardized testing. Given that the UC system is a leader in public education, it’s time that the UC Board of Regents at least consider making standardized testing optional, and do so quickly. And there’s a precedent in California: The California State University system doesn’t require the SAT or ACT if an applicant has above a 3.0 GPA. Allowing students to submit their scores as a supplement, rather than a requirement, to their application would shift the focus to a student’s ability to succeed in an academic environment, and therefore their potential impact at a UC campus.

In an ideal world, standardized tests would be able to show an applicant’s aptitude for success in college. But as of now, standardized tests only seem to underscore individual high schoolers’ disadvantages and promote an unhealthy culture of one-upping each other. 

Editorials represent the majority opinion of the editorial board as written by the fall 2019 opinion editor, Revati Thatte.