In a move that squarely places California’s public universities at the forefront of the national trend to drop standardized tests, the Cal State university system will eliminate SAT and ACT exams from admission requirements, officials decided Wednesday.
The California State University's Board of Trustees unanimously approved the change, aligning the country's largest four-year university system with the “test free" admissions process already adopted by the University of California college system.
The California State University system has 477,000 students at its 23 colleges around the state, while the University of California’s 10 colleges enroll over 280,000 students.
The University of California Board of Regents voted last year to eliminate the standardized test admissions requirement at its undergraduate schools, which include the prestigious campuses of UC Berkeley and UCLA.
Acting Cal State system Chancellor Steve Relyea praised the decision, saying it will help “level the playing field and provide greater access to a high quality college degree for students from all backgrounds.”
Critics have long argued that standardized tests put minority and low-income college applicants at a disadvantage and pose a barrier to their admission. They have noted that wealthier students or their parents have the money to pay for expensive standardized test preparation courses that help boost their scores.
“In essence, we are eliminating our reliance on a high-stress, high-stakes test that has shown negligible benefit,” Relya said in a statement.
California’s public universities, like many across the country, suspended the exams during the pandemic and did not require them during the admissions process for college entry during the 2021-22 and 2022-23 academic years.
Amid the pandemic, more than 1,800 colleges and universities, or nearly 80% of U.S. four-year campuses, adopted either test-optional or score-free policies for fall 2022 applicants, said Bob Schaeffer, executive director of FairTest, a Boston-based anti-testing group.
The decision by the Cal State and the University of California college systems to make that ban permanent will “set a standard for public higher education around the nation,” Schaeffer said.
"It is not an accident that so many other public systems, literally from Washington state to Maine, now have similar policies. The whole country is watching California, and largely following the state’s lead,” he said.
Students can still choose to submit SAT or ACT scores that will not be considered for admissions purposes but could help in their placement for English and math courses, said Cal State system spokeswoman Toni Molle.
The system had suspended the standardized test requirement during the pandemic, instead basing admission on what it called a “multi factor admissions score” that allowed campuses to consider high school grade point averages, extra curricular activities and leadership roles as well as whether applicants were first-generation college student or came from schools with a high percentages of low-income students.
A systemwide advisory council made up of faculty, students and administrators and student leaders was put in charge of studying whether to drop the tests and recommended the change to the Cal State college system's board.
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Board Trustee Diego Arambula said it was important to drop the requirement because "reducing the stress and inequity that currently exists today are huge.”
Trustee Yammilette Rodriguez said dropping standardized tests will help students avoid what she went through at a rural high school that she has said “lacked college support.”
She had a 4.0 grade point average but missed SAT deadlines and didn’t take the test — and as a result had to attend a community college before she could transfer to California State University, Fresno.
“I am a proud product of the CSU and I would have been a product even sooner if I could have gotten in as a freshman,” Rodriguez said. “I know that my story is the same for many across California. It’s going to change the lives of many.”