Dive Brief:

  • A California Superior Court judge on Monday ordered the University of California System to stop using the SAT and ACT in its admissions and scholarship decisions.
  • The ruling is in response to a legal challenge from several students and advocacy groups contending that the system’s new policy, which considers but doesn’t require applicants’ admissions test scores, puts students with disabilities at a disadvantage amid the pandemic.
  • Their argument that the policy violates the Americans with Disabilities Act could spur litigators elsewhere in the country to launch a similar argument, experts say.

Dive Insight:

Judge Brad Seligman wrote in his ruling that the students and their advocates had shown cause for the preliminary injunction against the test-optional policy, citing very limited ability for students with disabilities to get accommodations or find suitable testing sites in light of the pandemic. Testing dates were postponed or canceled while several testing sites had closed as K-12 schools and college campuses shuttered.

The students and advocates had argued the policy violates the Americans with Disabilities Act. Seligman wrote that the test-optional policy, under current conditions, denies test-takers with disabilities a benefit that others have, which is effectively a second chance at admission. Students applying to schools with test-optional policies don’t have to share bad scores, while good scores could get their application a second look.

The court’s decision “highlights a handle that can be leveraged by litigants in other states,” said Jay Rosner, executive director of The Princeton Review Foundation. Rosner is also a member of a UC committee that will make a recommendation to the system’s president on its plans to adopt or develop another admissions test. 

Bob Schaeffer, interim executive director of FairTest, a group that pushes for controlled use of admissions tests, similarly pointed to the ruling’s “national implications,” in a statement Tuesday. “[T]he same protections under the (ADA) should apply to all test-takers across the nation,” Schaeffer said in the statement.

In a statement emailed to Education Dive Tuesday, a UC spokesperson said the system “respectfully disagrees” with the court’s ruling and is “evaluating whether further legal actions are called for.” The spokesperson shared the university’s opposition to the motion, which explains individual campuses’ decisions to use the scores.

University admissions officials and faculty are best positioned to determine appropriate admissions decisions and procedures, taking into account the individual needs and priorities of a particular campus,” the spokesperson wrote.

The UC System in March temporarily suspended its standardized test requirement for students entering in the fall of 2021 because of the pandemic. Two months later, its governing board voted to mostly abandon the SAT and ACT as a condition for admission to its campuses. Its plan was to give campuses the option of considering test scores if students submitted them for fall 2021 and fall 2022, and then not permit schools to count the scores for California students’ admission the following two years. By the fifth year, the system could have a new assessment for students to take.

Its size and influence have put the UC System in the spotlight as a bellwether on standardized testing nationally. Already, several schools have made the tests permanently optional or dropped the requirement entirely. Many more have done so temporarily. More than 60% of all four-year colleges in the U.S. won’t require test scores for students applying to start college in the fall of 2021, according to FairTest. 

While Rosner supports the plaintiffs’ argument, he credits the UC System along with Caltech, which is underway with two years of test-blind admissions, for its leadership in using the policy.

But he and other experts predict that schools that go test-optional may not be inclined to return to using the scores, Education Dive reported earlier this summer. 

A handful of the UC System schools opted to go test-blind for the fall of 2021, the ruling notes. To Rosner, reverting back for a year before the system moves into the two test-blind years of its plan “kind of makes no sense” logistically.

Fueling the sectorwide shift to test-optional policies, the primary higher ed admissions group put out a statement last week asking public colleges not to require entrance exam scores for the 2021-22 admissions cycle.

“We must consider how public institutions that continue to maintain test requirements stand in relation to students and families,” the group wrote, “as they appear to send the signal that college admission exams take priority over students’ health, even when the majority of colleges have recognized that the exams are not essential for admission this year.”

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