Regional: Uc President Wants Sat/Act Mandate Suspended Through 2024 And New Exam Created

With a proposal that could shake up the standardized testing  industry and also antagonize some faculty, University of California President  Janet Napolitano on Monday said undergraduate applicants should not be  required to take the SAT or ACT through at least 2024 and maybe forever if  the university can not develop a replacement exam.

Her plan calls on UC to create its own entrance exam "that better  aligns with the content UC expects applicants to have learned and with UC  values," according to a statement on the agenda for a UC regents meeting next  week. The regents are scheduled to vote May 21 on the future of standardized  testing for freshmen admissions, a hotly debated issue that focuses on  whether the SAT and ACT hurt or help the college entrance chances of  low-income and some minority students.

Students who are now high school juniors and will apply for fall  2021 entrance to one of UC's nine undergraduate campuses already are excused  from taking those exams. That requirement was suspended last month after high  school classes switched statewide to online because of the coronavirus  emergency and testing dates were canceled.

But Napolitano's new recommendation goes far beyond that move and  also partly goes against a UC-wide faculty vote that sought to have the tests  reinstated for fall 2022 entrance. Those faculty leaders say the exams'  scores are able to better predict college success for wide populations of  students, including minorities, than high school grades can. Test opponents  say the exams are biased against low-income and black and Latino students.

Napolitano proposes that test scores from the SAT or ACT remain  optional for students looking to apply for fall 2022. Then, for the following  two years, until 2024, campuses "will not consider test scores for admissions  selection at all, and will practice test-blind admissions selection," relying  mainly on high school grades and other factors, the plan said.

Starting soon, UC should start to identify a replacement test,  modify an existing one or create an entirely new one that demonstrates  "college readiness for California freshmen." The goal is to start offering  that new test for fall 2025 entrance.

If UC is unable within five years to develop a new test that meets  its needs, Napolitano's plan says UC "will eliminate altogether" the use of  standardized tests for California residents. Applicants from other states or  nations may still be required to submit SAT or ACT scores if a new exam is  not developed, however.

In the past, some education experts have suggested that the  Smarter Balanced Assessment exams, now used to identify California students'  proficiency in high school subjects, be adopted for college entrance  purposes. While Napolitano raises the possibility of a modified Smarter  Balanced test, her plan seems more focused on a new exam for California  applicants, partnering to develop it with the 23-campus California State  University system.

A new test would provide feedback to high schools about students'  performance in a range of academic subjects, and "it can potentially lead to  increased academic rigor in high school courses generally, thereby ensuring  that all students - not just those identified as college-bound - have access  to a rigorous academic curriculum," according to the agenda item. The current  SAT and ACT "are clearly not linked" to high school studies, it says.

Napolitano, who is scheduled to leave the UC presidency by August,  staked out a position that could put her partly at odds with the UC faculty  leadership. The regents themselves have appeared divided on the matter,  although it is unlikely that Napolitano would have made her plan public  without garnering prior support from many regents.

Last month, the UC-wide faculty Senate's leadership voted to  support the reinstatement of standardized testing starting for fall 2022  entrance, presumably well after the current health crisis is over, and to  keep the exams for at least five years. Then UC should study the value of the  tests again, the faculty body said.

Admissions now relies on a combination of high school grades and  test scores, along with extracurriculars and some factors of family  circumstances.

That faculty group supported an influential faculty task force  report issued in February that called for the tests to be retained. The task  force argued that the exams are good predictors of college success for  low-income and some black and Latino students, and that high school grades  alone are not sufficient to judge candidates. But the report also suggested  that UC might create its own test within nine years.

UC faculty Senate Chair Kum-Kum Bhavnani told EdSource on Monday  that Napolitano's proposal presents "some areas of agreement and some areas  of departure" compared with the faculty plan. She said many faculty members  will be pleased about the idea to create a new exam, even if Napolitano's  timetable for that would be much faster than the nine years discussed in the  faculty report.

However, the faculty Senate would likely not be happy with  Napolitano's suggestion that the standardized tests be dropped as a  requirement if a replacement test is not in place within five years, said  Bhavnani, who is a sociology professor at UC Santa Barbara. Faculty leaders  may ask that the testing requirement be suspended for an additional year,  until fall 2023 admissions, because of lingering coronavirus complications.  But Napolitano's plan of going test blind in 2023 and 2024 will be examined,  she said.

Other faculty experts have insisted that the faculty task force  report is wrong and that the standardized tests are inherently biased against  low-income students and some minority students. Plus, they point to the  costly test-preparation classes that more affluent applicants can afford to  take but are out of reach for families without the means to do so.

Napolitano and the Academic Senate agree on one important item:  eliminating the essay writing portions of the SAT and ACT. That writing test  is in effect a supplement to the regular standardized tests and has been  dropped by most other universities. While disagreeing on other things, both  the UC president and the faculty say that the writing test has become an  unnecessary burden for students because no UC campuses actually use those  scores in reviewing applicants and very few other colleges do.

A leading opponent to the SAT/ACT requirements praised  Napolitano's plan. In a statement released Monday, Michele Siqueiros,  president of the Campaign for College Opportunity, an organization that works  to expand college access and has criticized the tests, called the new  proposal "a critical step toward creating a fairer process that will yield a  UC student body more reflective of the California we live in." She urged the  regents "to make history" and vote for it.

The College Board, which sponsors the SAT, and the ACT  organization did not respond to EdSource requests for reaction. California  students comprise a very large share of their test-taking customers, and both  organizations could lose significant income and national influence if  Napolitano's plan goes into effect.

In December, civil rights organizations and the Compton Unified  School District filed lawsuits demanding that UC stop requiring that  applicants take the SAT or ACT entrance exams for freshman college admission.  The lawsuits, filed in Superior Court in Alameda County, contend that the  test mandate "systematically and unlawfully denies talented and qualified  students with less accumulated advantage a fair opportunity to pursue higher  education at the UC."

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