Don’t Throw Away Your Sharpened Pencils . . .

“The University of California Board of Regents today (May 21) unanimously approved the suspension of the standardized test requirement (ACT/SAT) for all California freshman applicants until fall 2024. The suspension will allow the University to create a new test that better aligns with the content the University expects students to have mastered for college readiness. However, if a new test does not meet specified criteria in time for fall 2025 admission, UC will eliminate the standardized testing requirement for California students.”

–          “University of California Board of Regents unanimously approved changes to standardized testing requirement for undergraduates” (press release), University of California

The Board of Regents of the University of California has just announced a change in their system’s admissions requirements that could impact on the college admissions process for years to come. In brief, the monumental UC system, which considers applications from about 10,000 potential undergraduates every year, just became “test optional” for the SAT and ACT exams in the years 2020-2022 and eliminated the need for all applicants to take those tests after that.

Although that announcement is making the news almost daily, it seems unlikely that it will be the final death blow to standardized testing, at least not in the four or five years to come. Here are some of the reasons why.

Previous Efforts to Do Away with Standardized Tests Have Not Ended Them

Since 2005, an organization called has been advocating strongly for the abolition of the SAT and the ACT. Today, lists more than 1,200 colleges and universities that have agreed to consider applications from students who have not taken those tests.

So why have the efforts of not done away with standardized tests? One reason is that many strong students take the tests to gain an edge in college admissions; they take the test and if they perform well, they submit their scores anyway. Another reason is that if students are applying to multiple schools (some students apply to 12 or more colleges), chances are strong that some of those institutions will not be test-optional.

Students Take Standardized Tests to Qualify for Scholarships

The National Merit Scholarship Program, for example, requires applicants to take the  Preliminary SAT/National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test (PSAT/NMSQT). According to the National Merit Scholarship program, about 1.6 million American high school students apply for the scholarship every year and take that test.

In addition, many colleges and universities use SAT and ACT scores to identify students who will receive financial aid. The result for many students is that taking standardized tests is still a win/win situation. If they take the tests, score well, and get financial aid, there was no downside. If they don’t do well, they have only lost the cost of taking the tests.

Both the SAT and ACT Are Moving toward Online Testing, Which Will Broaden the Tests’ Reach

The technology to securely administer standardized tests is already in place. Another standardized test, the Law School Admissions Test (LSAT) that is administered by the Law School Admissions Council, is already available online. And there are many reasons why the providers of the SAT, after having gone through the problems of rescheduling tests that were canceled during the Coronavirus pandemic, will be motivated to move more of its testing online.

The ACT and SAT Still Offer a Way to Compare Applicants from Different Schools and Backgrounds

Research has shown that students from wealthier families and school districts score better on standardized tests. Those findings are valid, and open both colleges and testing companies to charges of discrimination. Yet there is a reason why colleges still value the tests in their admissions processes: the tests offer the only available way to compare students who come from different schools.

Let’s say, for example, that a student from one school district earned a perfect 4.0 GPA, while a student from another school district earned only a 3.5. What those GPAs do not reveal is that it is far easier to earn a high GPA in that first district than it is in the second. And even though SAT or ACT scoring is flawed, it at least provides a yardstick for comparing students from different schools.

So Keep Your Pencil Sharpener

So many problems are associated with standardized tests. They are expensive to take, force students to take costly test preparation classes and tutoring, put additional stress on students, and cause other problems. Many educators agree that life would be better for everyone if the tests simply disappeared.

Yet for the foreseeable future at least, it seems standardized tests are not going to go away.

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