Cal State will do admissions without SAT or ACT

The California State University Board of Trustees unanimously voted Wednesday to no longer use standardized SAT and ACT tests in undergraduate admissions.

That means that even if an applicant submits scores for admission to one of the system’s 23 campuses, Cal State admissions counselors won’t look at them. The system’s campuses enroll a total of 477,000 students.

“This decision aligns with the California State University’s continued efforts to level the playing field and provide greater access to a high-quality college degree for students from all backgrounds,” said acting chancellor Steve Relyea. “In essence, we are eliminating our reliance on a high-stress, high-stakes test that has shown negligible benefit and providing our applicants with greater opportunities to demonstrate their drive, talents and potential for college success.”

The move had the endorsement of the Cal State Students Association and the Academic Senate of the California State University.

The decision follows a similar vote by the University of California Board of Regents in 2020. That means that the testing companies will not do business with most students applying to public colleges in the most populous state in the country. (Some students will continue to apply to private colleges, which have a range of policies on the SAT and ACT). The University of California vote was at the beginning of the pandemic, and the Cal State vote may be at the end of it. But officials from both systems said their policies were adopted without the pandemic in mind, but instead as long-term approaches to admissions.

Robert Schaeffer, the executive director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing (FairTest) said that the Cal State system had “set a standard for public institutions around the country. Combined with the elimination of standardized exam mandates by the University of California system as well as test-optional policies in place at all public campuses in Oregon and Washington State, these actions make the West Coast a national model for admissions reform.”

And, he said, “higher education policy makers across the country are watching closely and largely following suit. It is not an accident that so many other public systems—literally from Colorado to Maine—no longer require applicants to submit ACT or SAT scores. Test-optional admissions is now the new normal in public higher education just as it has been among liberal arts colleges.”

The ACT criticized the vote by the California State University board.

“This decision is more likely to harm than help students. Abandoning the use of objective assessments like the ACT test introduces greater subjectivity and uncertainty into the admissions process, and this decision is likely to worsen entrenched inequities in California,” the ACT said in a statement. “Troubling differentials in educational outcomes and performance appear in the same way for academic measures like high school GPA as they do for standardized exams. In fact, ACT research has shown that test-optional policies do not have the effects suggested by advocates, such as increasing the diversity of the applicant pool. The suggestion that the test offers ‘negligible additional value’ is refuted by longstanding research whose conclusions are openly embraced by many institutions, such as Harvard University. Solving the prevailing, systemic education inequities that exist in this country requires attention and focus on root causes, rather than dismissing the tools that substantially improve our understanding of them.”

The College Board did not respond to a request for comment.

The move was praised by Michele Siqueiros, president of the Campaign for College Opportunity. “A single 3-hour test on a Saturday morning has never measured a student’s full talent or potential. What these tests have measured is the unfair advantage that privileged and wealthier students have, including access to expensive test prep, which focuses on how to ‘game’ the test instead of measuring the knowledge gained by students in their high school courses.”

Other Changes

The Cal State board acted as many other colleges, public and private, were also moving away from testing requirements.

On Wednesday, Southern Methodist University, which went test optional during the pandemic, said it would remain that way for at least another year, for students who apply for fall 2023 and spring 2024 admission.

“Since implementing a temporary test-optional policy in 2020, the admission committee continues to attract high-achieving students who bring great talent to our campus,” said Wes Waggoner, SMU associate vice president for enrollment management.

And in Georgia, the Board of Regents recently announced that 23 of its institutions (all except the Georgia College & State University, the Georgia Institute of Technology, and the University of Georgia) may evaluate fall 2022 applicants without the consideration of SAT/ACT scores .

That has already prompted colleges to start to drop SAT/ACT requirements—Georgia Southern University announced that no SAT or ACT scores were necessary. Valdosta State University announced that students who have a high-school grade point average of 3.2 or higher no longer need to submit scores.

Ryan Hogan, director of admissions at VSU, said the goal is to help remove some of the barriers incoming freshmen have been facing since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. “This latest update to our admissions process will certainly expand our ability to grow our dynamic and diverse community by eliminating additional costs and test score anxiety for this select group of hardworking students,” said Hogan.

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