Lawsuit filed against UC system calls test-optional policy ‘discriminatory’

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Manooshree Patel/File
Filed in December 2019 on behalf of students and educational equity organizations, a lawsuit challenges the UC system's test-optional policy, alleging that the standardized tests are optional only in name.

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Students are suing the UC system for its test-optional admissions policy, alleging that applicants will still have to take the discriminatory exams.

The lawsuit was filed by several organizations, including pro bono law firm Public Counsel through its project, Opportunity Under Law. According to Public Counsel staff attorney Amanda Savage, the lawsuit was originally filed in December 2019 on behalf of students and educational equity organizations to challenge the use of SAT and ACT scores in UC admissions decisions. In May, the UC Board of Regents voted to phase out SAT and ACT scores from the admissions process, making standardized tests optional for the next two years and being test-blind after that.

As a result, Opportunity Under Law’s latest lawsuit motion, filed Wednesday, now aims to prevent the implementation of this test-optional policy, alleging that it is optional only in name and would not apply to scholarship determinations for the next four years. It also alleged that there is a “tremendous lack of transparency” within the execution of the decision.

“UC opposes this attempt to leverage the court system as a means of bypassing careful analysis and appropriate policymaking by University officials,” alleged the UC Office of the President in a statement. “The University remains committed to enrolling a student body that reflects the broad diversity of cultural, racial, geographic, and socioeconomic backgrounds characteristic of California.”

According to Public Counsel spokesperson Rekha Radhakrishnan, students with disabilities already struggle to find testing sites that can accommodate them, a problem exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Savage and Radhakrishnan both said they believe that attempting to take the SAT or ACT to qualify for scholarships could potentially endanger these students, as well as other students from low-income families and their loved ones.

“The UC admissions process currently involves several other factors that are better indicators of how a student will succeed once they get to college,” Radhakrishnan said. “That’s what they should be doing instead of this.”

The regents have said current standardized tests are exclusionary in their decision to not use them, but Savage alleged that continuing to use those scores in the admissions process, until the test-blind policy is implemented, still rewards family wealth and privilege.

She added that the education of many students of color and low-income students has been severely disrupted because of the pandemic. These students often do not have access to college admissions counselors, adequate transportation to testing locations and expensive test prep that some of their affluent peers may have, according to Savage.

“Right now, there is just this tremendous lack of transparency about UC’s decision and about how its supposedly test-optional admissions policy is actually going to work,” Savage said. “If anything, students are taking away the message that if they don’t test, they’ll be significantly worse off come fall, which I think is unfortunately correct.”

Contact Tarunika Kapoor at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @tkapoor_dc.