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How the pandemic transformed standardized testing in California

All University of California schools will no longer require the SAT in admissions applications. (Image illustration by Kevin Doan)

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted a multitude of preexisting problems. In California, the standardized testing debate is one of them.

For years, educators, researchers and students alike have pointed out several major flaws of the SAT and ACT as a part of the college admissions process. Many argue that despite efforts to create more equitable testing, standardized tests still do not measure intelligence or academic ability and that the test is biased, such as that it tends to put students of color, students from low-income families and disabled students at a disadvantage.

“I don’t think those tests tell you a ton about whether [a student] is going to be successful or not,” guidance specialist Lindsey Gonzalez said.

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, it has become virtually impossible for students to take the SAT or ACT. In California, test dates have been continually canceled since widespread closures began in March. This month alone, some 187 SAT test centers closed for the Dec. 5 examination.

In response to COVID-related cancelations and growing concern over the fairness and accuracy of standardized tests, University of California opted to drop the SAT and ACT as requirements of the college admissions process for in-state applicants. With plans to eventually create a more equitable test unique to the UC system, the UC’s maintained a “test-optional” policy that allowed students to submit test scores if they chose to for the 2020-2021 and 2021-2022 cycles.

However, more recent legislation has prohibited UC from taking test scores into consideration completely. On Aug. 31, an Alameda County Superior Court Judge ruled that UCs must remove the SAT and ACT from the admissions process entirely because of widespread test inaccessibility.

Because of the Alameda County judge’s ruling, every UC campus adopted a “test-blind” policy instead of the original test-optional policy for the 2020-2021 admissions cycle, wherein applicants are allowed to submit test scores but will not UC consider the scores as they evaluate applications.

As of now, it is unclear if UC will be test-optional for the 2021-2022 admissions cycle as it had originally planned. But many high school juniors, who will be applying to colleges in fall 2021, hope to take the SAT or ACT before they apply and are concerned over the lack of testing availability. Some Californian students have even begun to take tests in nearby states such as Nevada, Arizona and Utah.

“[My ACT test date] was canceled three … times in California,” Huntington Beach High School junior Connor Matsuda said. “I wanted to [take it soon] because studying took up time from school.”

Matsuda said he has taken the ACT twice: once in St. George, Utah, and once in Las Vegas, Nevada. Like many other students, he plans on applying to out-of-state colleges, some of which still require or consider standardized tests as a part of their admissions process. Matsuda considers the ACT a way to “show [colleges] you went the extra mile.”

“For anyone taking the SAT or ACT, don’t count on California opening [testing centers],” Matsuda said.

But Gonzalez noted that students in California should not be concerned about testing being the differentiating factor when applying for colleges.

“Colleges are really making their ‘puzzle of students’ because it makes it great when their student body is diverse,” Gonzalez said. “If you always pick the same [1600 SAT] profile … it’s not going to make their student body really deep. It’s going to make them all good at one thing but lacking in others.”

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