Opinion: UCs move towards admissions equity shouldn’t include a new exam

Kaahini Jain, News Editor

The University of California Board of Regents voted to eliminate the SAT and ACT application requirements over a five-year period last Thursday.

In a unanimous vote, the Board of Regents approved a plan to eliminate the use of the SAT and ACT standardized tests as an application material, according to a statement from the UC Office of the President.

The plan gained traction from the cancellation of test dates due to the COVID-19 pandemic, during which many universities, including the UCs, announced they will go test optional for applicants from the class of 2021.

The UCs will also be extending the test optional period for the 2022 application season. After that, they will go test-blind, meaning no test scores will be accepted, for in-state applicants in the class of 2023 and 2024. By 2025, the university will no longer accept SAT or ACT scores from any incoming freshmen, in or out of state.

Between now and January 2021, the university will undergo studies to create their own standardized test, specific to the UCs. 

UC President Janet Napolitano, who is the first woman to hold the position, is responsible for the creation of the five-year plan.

The decision to phase out the use of test scores in admissions decisions is a bold and brave one, but one that will ultimately be successful and an improvement for students as well as college campuses. For this, Napolitano must be applauded. 

However, the idea that the university system could create a new exam is frightening. 

The inequity of the college admissions process is no secret and largely lies in the standardized exams, namely the SAT and ACT. 

Last year’s college admissions scandal further brought light to this long-existing issue. According to FairTest, over 1,230 universities have made the submission of SAT and ACT scores optional for admission. 

The exams are lengthy and flawed, and studies have shown they are a disadvantage students who come from less wealthy families. 

Not only is signing up for the test expensive, but tutoring and test preparation books, which often are key to improving scores, are also costly. Furthermore, the exam caters to those who can memorize facts and work for extended periods of time without a real break, which is not the majority of students.

“A flawed test should not continue to be required,” Napolitano said. 

These changes, however, are not sudden and follow lots of pressure from the public. In 2019, not only did Operation Varsity Blues, a large scale scheme which falsified students’ exam scores, deepen the blow to standardized testing, but two lawsuits were also filed from anti-testing groups against the UC system over the discrimination of SAT and ACT exams. 

On the other hand, the university system has received backlash from the College Board and ACT companies over these decisions.

Marten Roorda, chief executive office of ACT, called the university system’s plan both “high-risk” and “irresponsible” during an interview with the Washington Post.

According to a New York Times article, experts estimate that the College Board has lost $45 million in revenue this spring due to the coronavirus. The article goes on to state that four-fifths of UC applicants take the SAT, making the school system the largest source of customers for the College Board. 

The goal is to “create a new test that aligns with the content UC expects students to have mastered to demonstrate college readiness for California freshmen,” the UC Office of the President announced when the decision came out last Thursday. 

If the UCs create their own entrance exam, that’s just one more thing that students have to worry about in high school. That’s one more exam to study for, one more fee to pay, one more testing center to visit.

While the College Board and ACT companies produce exams that are flawed, they have been studying the results and demographics of these exams for decades. For the University of California to whip up a successful new exam in mere months seems implausible. Both testing companies have already voiced their disdain for the UCs’ decision, meaning they won’t be partnering with the new UC exams anytime soon. 

Setting aside the actual exam, the logistics of a UC-specific test seem hectic as well. The College Board and ACT have thousands of testing centers nationwide and both accommodate for students who have religious rituals to attend on Saturdays, not to mention other accommodations such as extra time, or braille testing packets. An organization new to the testing arena simply cannot catch up to match these standards. This year, the College Board’s Advanced Placement exams were held online for the first time due to the coronavirus. If online testing is considered for the UC exams, which both the SAT and ACT have announced they will provide in the fall due to the pandemic, concerns about cheating and plagiarism will have to be addressed and both will likely occur. 

However, the biggest worry with a UC-specific exam is the ripple affect it could have. If the UC undergraduate campuses all of a sudden require a specific test, what is going to stop every other university from doing the same? It may not be within a year, but if by 2025 the UCs have come out with their own exam, it can be expected that by 2030, school-specific tests could be a new norm.

Between their nine undergraduate campuses, six appear in U.S. News’ top 50 Best National Universities Rankings. The university system is among the most well-regarded and influential in the U.S., meaning their admissions changes will likely cause other colleges to act similarly, according to Terry Hartle, senior vice president of the American Council on Education.

“Whatever decision they make will be extraordinarily influential,” Hartle said of the UCs in the New York Times article.

Writing essays for each college’s individual application prompts is already a nightmare. Taking the SAT or ACT is already a huge source of anxiety. Imagine having to write a different essay for every school and study for a different entrance exam for every school. A nightmare. 

Napolitano and the UC Board of Regents have taken a monumental step towards leveling the playing field that is the college admissions process by phasing out the SAT and ACT. But to create a new exam would be a mistake which high school students cannot afford.