A judge has barred the University of California from using SAT or ACT test scores in their admissions criteria for Fall 2021. With a criterion eliminated, the remaining criteria take on more importance: grades, recommendations and essays. There was a temporary stay on this preliminary injunction, but that has now been lifted on October 29, 2020, confirming that UCs will be test blind (no SATs or ACTs) for Fall 2021. As of October 29, the UC website still states that UCs are test-optional, but I expect that to be updated. Please continue to check that link for updated information on exam requirements.
How Did We Get to This Point?
More than a million first-time SAT takers experienced their SAT test dates canceled this spring and summer. The ACT attempted to keep some tests on the schedule, but it was nearly impossible to register for these exams, there were last-minute cancellations, and communications with students were abysmal or nonexistent. If you were caught up in this frenzy of inactivity, one of these scenarios below may sound all too familiar:
- Your testing reservation was canceled due to the pandemic, so you still haven’t taken the exam.
- You have a disability. You tried to sign up to take the ACT or SAT with approved accommodations; however, you couldn’t reserve a spot because no testing sites with accommodations were available.
- You took the SAT in October of your junior year. One and done.
- You took the ACT in March of your junior year after taking a prep class. You would take it again if you could.
Accelerating Test-Optional Trend
Recognizing the challenges, more than half of four-year colleges have gone test-optional with 1,240 of 2,330 colleges on board, according to FairTest.org. Going test-optional has been a long time coming for many institutions, as year by year, a few more colleges have hopped on the trend. But with the pandemic pushing standardized testing off the rails, test-optional is here today and here to stay in a big way.
There have been concerns that standardized tests reinforce a socioeconomic divide between the “haves” and the “have nots.” In 2015, InsideHigherEd did a study that showed that students at the lowest 20% of scores came from families with incomes less than $20,000, and those at the top 20% of each tier were students from households with incomes of $200,000.
In May, UC had announced a five-year plan to phase out the use of standardized tests, starting with a test-optional policy for 2021 and 2022 admissions. However, this September, in a preliminary injunction, a judge ruled that admissions must be test-blind for Fall 2021. “The current COVID 19 pandemic has resulted in restrictions in the availability of test sites,” Judge Seligman said in his ruling. “While test-taking opportunities for all students have been limited, for persons with disabilities, the ability to obtain accommodations or even to locate suitable test locations for the test are ‘almost nil’.”
To even the playing field, the SAT and ACT can’t be used for admission to UC, but that doesn’t apply to the state’s private institutions, such as USC, which joined the list of test-optional schools for the 2021-2022 academic year. Although UC has been resistant to accepting the judge’s ruling, there isn’t a lot of time for the university to ask for a stay of the injunction. It’s prudent to assume that UC admissions will indeed be test-blind for Fall 2021. As of the date of this post, their website still states that you can submit your test score, so you should still check back to confirm that this has been updated to be in line with the ruling. (These type of issues are subject to change, so please check with UC before applying to get the final word on this.)
Change in U.S. News Best Colleges Rankings
The shift in testing has set off reverberations. For the first time, the U.S. News Best Colleges rankings include test-blind schools, so the various UC campuses continue to show up in this high-visibility list, released September 2020.
If you did well on your ACT or SAT, good on you. You can use your score for test-optional schools. If you didn’t take the test and don’t want to, it’s one less thing. So how will UC know how outstanding and unique you are? Grades, recommendations and essays. So give your recommenders some great material to work with by sharing with them your accomplishments and points of view. And work on those essays; usually, it takes a few drafts before they’re ready to send off to colleges. Start now and take the pressure off. You may find that you even enjoy the process.