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Unintended Consequences of UCs Dropping SAT & ACT?

Hallelujah. Finally some clarity in the state of California: The University of California system recently announced that the SAT and ACT will no longer be a factor in admissions decision.

While the decision may just be a way to settle a lawsuit, it represents a major shift to the entire college admissions process.

Followers of this blog know that CROSSWALK has long understood the inequities of the SAT and ACT. Though our specialty is test preparation, we know that these tests favor the wealthier and more educated segments of the population. Simply put, it has not been a fair way to assess all student potential.

So California, it's time to celebrate.

Or is it? Might this decision actually hurt California? What will be the unintended consequences?

To assess the possible downsides of this move, I raise the following three questions:

1) Will removing tests make it harder for California's high school students to get into top state colleges?

Since UCs decided to go test optional last year, there was a major increase in applications (take UCLA, for example). As a result, admissions rates went way down. Now that UCs will go test blind next year, won't applications increase more? And admission rates decrease more? Add in the fact that UCs love to accept full pay, out-of-state applicants and the unintended consequence may be that our California high schoolers may have less of a chance to get into top UCs.

2) Won't this decision actually make California high schoolers less competitive for out-of-state colleges?

As long as the SAT and ACT are not required for UC admission, fewer high schools in California will offer test prep or support for SAT and ACT. Since states like Georgia and potentially Florida maintain their SAT and ACT admission requirements, this would mean that Californians will have to work harder to find test prep resources if they want to apply to schools in those states.

3) Will this make college more accessible for all?

The cynic in me says that even as test scores are removed, the privileged pockets of our society will still figure out ways to gain access to selective colleges. The inequities in our higher education system are enormous. So if the objective of removing the tests is to level the playing field, won't the rich just find another strategy to deploy? GPAs may become the new test score (the rich can afford tutors). Essays are certain to have heavier weight (the rich can afford essay editors). Demonstrated interest could be a more significant measurement (the rich can afford visits and trips).

Ultimately, I applaud California's decision. It is certainly a move in the right direction to make college access more equitable, even if it is in response to a lawsuit.

But I also wonder about the unintended consequences. I don't propose we return to the rampant use of test scores but I fear that this move will ultimately represent very little change overall.

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