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Editorial: There’s no point investing scarce UC resources designing another standardized test

By Editorial Board

May 26, 2020 6:37 p.m.

After years of talk, the University of California finally threw out the ACT and SAT from admissions.

But standardized testing isn’t going anywhere if the UC can help it.

The Board of Regents voted to suspend standardized testing in the UC admissions process May 21, following dozens of other schools in the decision.

But unlike Amherst College, Vassar College and Williams College – all of which have dropped standardized testing in admissions – the UC will attempt to create a new, system-specific test by 2025. If they fail to do so, standardized testing in UC admissions will be scrapped altogether.

COVID-19 has acted as a catalyst for change in many sectors. Considering the conversation around standardized testing and educational inequity, it’s no surprise that the UC took this moment in history to reconsider its approach.

What their new approach is, though, remains unclear.

The UC may or may not be right to cut the ACT and SAT from the admissions process – but if it’s going to put standardized testing on the chopping block, it needs to do so definitively. The decision to pour resources into creating a standardized test for the UC isn’t just an unnecessary addendum to an otherwise clear decision, it’s a waste of resources at a time the University doesn’t have much to spare.

Beyond that, an entirely new test provides a laundry list of foreseeable issues, specifically regarding financial and geographic accessibility.

A test is a test is a test. And even a world-class research university can’t fix the underlying issues the ACT and SAT have long faced – not because of poor design, but because of the inherent flaws with standardized testing.

The financial barriers within standardized testing aren’t going away – they’ll just be taking on a new form. Standardized testing, even from the UC, will likely require registration fees and costs to administer that will come out of students’ pockets.

There’s no guarantee a UC-specific exam will be any more accessible. International students might know this better than anyone. Even in the largest cities abroad where students are aiming to take well-established exams like the SAT and ACT, testing centers can be extremely limited. If students struggle to find centers that provide tests that have been around for decades, distributing a UC exam might end up pushing away applicants from all over the world.

Not that the UC is even in the position to be creating a new test amid a pandemic and a catastrophic higher education budget. The UC was hit with $558 million in unanticipated costs from the coronavirus crisis, and the state’s education budget has limited room for even the bare necessities at the moment. Spending drastically limited resources on an exam that isn’t guaranteed to benefit students – or even be implemented – is a cost no one can afford.

Granted, it’s not a bad idea to have a backup plan if a testless world goes wrong. But besides that being unlikely, the UC could have used what it already had at its disposal – that is, the long standing testing models with existing infrastructure – instead of planning to spend five years trying to beat an unbeatable problem.

They may be valiant in their efforts.

But the only way to beat the problem at this point is to let it go entirely.

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