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UC must be mindful to not perpetuate inequity with replacement admissions exam

In light of the University of California’s decision to drop standardized testing requirements from the admissions process, the UC must ensure its new test does not perpetuate existing financial and educational disparities between students. (Daily Bruin file photo)

By Elaine Chen

May 28, 2020 5:35 pm

As spring cleaning comes to a close, the University of California has done its fair share by throwing out one of its longstanding admissions requirements – standardized testing.

The UC Board of Regents unanimously voted May 21 to waive the SAT and ACT as admissions requirements, choosing to make the tests optional until their full suspension in 2024.

The UC had initially suspended the testing requirement for the fall 2021 applicant pool, but later decided to phase out the SAT and ACT altogether.

In addition to doing away with standardized assessments, the UC also announced its plans to create a new test to be used for future applicants. Even if the test isn’t ready to be administered by fall 2025, the UC will not be returning to the SAT and ACT requirement.

Suspending the SAT and ACT in the midst of a global pandemic is the right decision, as many colleges are taking note of the unprecedented and difficult circumstances that coronavirus has brought to standardized testing. However, the UC now faces the daunting task of creating a new test by 2025. If the UC is going to create a new test, it needs to commit the proper resources to ensure that it doesn’t develop an assessment that highlights the same financial and educational inequities the ACT and SAT did.

If current circumstances teach us anything, it’s that present standardized testing measures are deeply flawed.

Currently, the SAT is canceled for the month of June. The College Board issued a statement announcing tentative plans to administer the test online.

However, the testing company has already faced challenges with online testing, as high school students across the nation reported technical difficulties when taking their Advanced Placement exams earlier this month. The glitches in test-taking have even resulted in an online petition requesting that the College Board allow students to resubmit their AP exams rather than force them to retake the exam at a future date.

And the UC schools aren’t the only universities that have found it necessary to adjust their admission standards in light of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many other colleges, such as Amherst College, Harvard University and Cornell University, have decided to waive standardized testing requirements for fall 2021 applicants, citing the unprecedented circumstances of the coronavirus.

On top of this, the College Board and ACT have given statements respecting the rights of colleges to make their admission policies more flexible in the wake of the pandemic.

But as of recently, only the UC has taken the bold step of abolishing the SAT and ACT from future applications altogether.

It’s agreeable that there should be a consistent variable to compare students that come from a variety of educational backgrounds. However, the SAT and ACT have certainly played their parts in highlighting major disparities that exist across the nation in regard to access to a quality education.

With test preparation companies such as Kaplan and Princeton Review making thousands off students who are willing to pay for their programs, some have raised questions about the ability of standardized tests to accurately reflect how well students perform academically.

Jocelyn Tzeng, a second-year biology student, views the standardized tests as outdated in predicting student performance in college.

“Now college admissions are a lot more holistic and they look at a lot of other things besides your grades, and tests are limited in showing how you’re doing,” Tzeng said.

Tzeng’s comments ring true, as tests have become only one component of the UC application. Aside from numbers, the application allows students to express their qualifications through sections such as essay statements and extracurriculars.

Claire Li, a second-year economics and statistics student, pointed out the tendency of SAT and ACT scores to reflect bias in favor of those from privileged socioeconomic backgrounds.

“I think standardized tests, in general, are pretty difficult (in being) truly reflective of student performance,” Li said.

For all the shortcomings of standardized testing that the SAT and ACT were quick to expose, the new UC test has a lot to make up for. This means the UC needs to dedicate the proper resources, time and oversight to ensure its test is ready by 2025 and doesn’t further accentuate existing socioeconomic cleavages.

Jose-Felipe Martinez, an associate professor at the UCLA Graduate School of Education and Information Studies, said in an emailed statement that he was worried about the serious unintended consequences of eliminating the SAT and ACT requirement.

“For me the crucial fact here is that any test we develop … will ultimately face the harsh reality that students in California and the US are exposed to deeply inequitable educational opportunities,” Martinez said in the statement.

And it’s true. Any standardized test, whether it comes from College Board or the UC, faces the inevitable fate of falling into the hands of expensive test prep programs, which can give students from more affluent backgrounds an unfair advantage.

“We should now be very vigilant to make sure (the new test) does not ultimately result in an enormous waste of time and resources, or even worse, an unintended setback for equity,” Martinez said in the statement.

Since the UC has set its own deadline for the construction of a new test for future UC applicants, the clock is ticking to design an assessment that can both highlight what the UC is looking for and take into account underlying social inequalities.

Otherwise, it stands the possibility of wasting financial resources on another test that will only perpetuate the disturbing problems of traditional standardized testing.

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Elaine Chen
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