News & Politics

Judge Rules University System in California Can't Use ACT, SAT for Admissions

Richard Drew

A Superior Court judge has ruled that because many students with disabilities are unable to access testing sites for the ACT and SAT tests, California schools cannot use them in admissions.

The Board of Regents was demanding changes in the tests by 2024 or they would discontinue using them. But the judge said that wasn’t good enough.


The “test optional” policy at most UC campuses affords privileged, non-disabled students a “second look” in admissions, said Brad Seligman, the Alameda County Superior Court Judge who issued the preliminary injunction in the case of Kawika Smith v. Regents of the University of California on Tuesday.

At the same time, he said, a “second look” would be denied to less privileged students and students with disabilities who are unable to access the tests. Therefore, the conclusion is to do away with the tests all together.

Because of the immensity of the California university system. the impact of not being able to use standardized tests will be huge. The Scholastic Aptitude Test was developed by the College Board, a not-for-profit organization that stands to lose millions of dollars in fees. The same is true for ACT, another private, not-for-profit organization.

California schools are naturally upset.

“An injunction may interfere with the University’s efforts to implement an appropriate and comprehensive admissions policies and its ability to attract and enroll students of diverse backgrounds and experiences,” the spokesperson said.

The UC system said it is considering further legal action in the case, and pointed to an increase in admission of low-income and first-generation-to-college-students for fall 2020.

The entire standardized test regimen has come under attack from those pushing mediocrity. Over the last couple of decades, the College Board has recognized bias in some questions relating to cultural differences between black and white students.

As the largest university system in the country, the ruling on UC is monumental. Many students and advocates have pushed for the removal of these required standardized tests, arguing that they don’t truly reflect a student’s academic ability.

Research has repeatedly proved that students from wealthy families score higher on the SAT and ACT, compared to students from low-income families.

The reasons for that could reflect many factors unrelated to bias. It’s also true that wealthier parents tend to be more involved in the academic lives of their children than less wealthy parents. Critically, wealthy parents can afford to have their child take the SAT several times, allowing the student to become familiar with the format. They can also afford SAT coaches.

Is this really unfair? What’s more, do colleges really use the SATs to give kids a “second look” in admissions? What are the schools supposed to do, ignore the test scores? Standardized tests should never have been given such great weight as they were 30 or 40 years ago, but the academic achievement that the tests are designed to measure does say something about a students’ potential. It shows they can set goals and achieve them and that they’ve retained knowledge critical to having success in higher education.

Schools can use any criteria they want in admissions except racial bias. I’d like to see standardized tests remain part of the admissions process, but not dominate it like they used to.

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