Dive Brief:

  • The University of California System cannot review applicants’ SAT or ACT scores for admission for at least the next academic year, a state appeals court said this week. 

  • The ruling comes after UC, which enrolled more than 226,000 undergraduates this fall, voted in May to phase out the entrance exams over the next five years. 

  • Many institutions abandoned SAT and ACT requirements for fall 2021 because of the coronavirus, but the court’s decision likely signals a more permanent rejection of the tests.

Dive Insight:

Advocates for people with disabilities and low-income and minority students sued UC last year, contending the SAT and ACT were biased measures of academic prowess. Their arguments echoed common criticism of the tests: that wealthy applicants can afford extensive tutoring, giving them an edge in admissions, and that the exams are designed in a way that disadvantages certain students. 

A California judge, citing the pandemic’s circumstances, found in August that the lawsuit would likely prevail in court. The judge granted a preliminary injunction barring UC’s use of admissions tests. 

The system appealed the injunction, but the three-member appeals panel this week upheld it, blocking UC from considering test scores for the next academic year. The judges wrote that the system had not proved it would be hurt by forgoing the tests. 

UC spokesperson Claire Doan wrote in an email that the system “respectfully” disagrees with the decision and is reviewing its options

The system’s governing board had already moved to eliminate use of the SAT and ACT entirely by 2025. But for the first two years under the plan, campuses could decide whether to review the tests, meaning applicants could still submit scores. Only three of UC’s nine undergraduate campuses planned to be test-optional for fall 2021, but the appeals court ruling forces them to be test-blind.

The implications of the court decision are significant, according to Bob Schaeffer, interim executive director at FairTest, which advocates for more equitable standardized exam policies. Schaeffer wrote in an email that UC and the California State University System are test-blind for next fall, the latter by choice, which validates the admissions model for other colleges. 

More than 1,570 colleges aren’t mandating test scores for the 2021 admissions cycle, according to FairTest’s count, though experts have said institutions that go test-optional don’t often revive their previous admissions policies. This shift is cutting into test-makers’ revenue

ACT did not respond to Education Dive‘s emailed request for comment Friday. But College Board spokesperson Jerome White noted in an email that a UC academic task force did not recommend the system get rid of the tests. White wrote the SAT has been in “strong demand” nationwide.

“We continue to urge test-related flexibility in college admissions for this cycle, and we continue to stand by the value of the SAT in providing opportunity for all students,” White wrote.

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