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The SAT may be abolished. What will replace it?

By Brian Soika Published on

Abolishing the SAT may no longer be just a fantasy for anxious college-bound students. 

The University of California, which serves more than 280,000 students, has permanently eliminated standardized tests like the SAT and ACT as admission requirements. Meanwhile, over a thousand other institutions including USC have embraced a test-optional policy, at least for now. 

The pandemic is a significant factor in the test-optional movement. But institutions are also responding to long-held criticisms of standardized tests. 

If optional test policies become the norm, or the SAT is abolished altogether, how else might admissions officers determine if a student is prepared for higher education?

A greater focus on equity in college admissions

Critics of the SAT say that the exam advantages affluent, White and Asian-American students. 

2019 data from the College Board, which administers the SAT, shows that, among those who scored 1200 or higher, there was a wide disparity between White and Asian-American students and Black and Hispanic students. 

Low-income students who lack the resources to pay for tutoring and test preparation are also at a disadvantage. 

In the absence of standardized tests, some institutions are trying to address these racial and income gaps. 

UC’s Academic Senate has recommended that the system partner more closely with K-12 schools in California and monitor applications and admissions growth among underserved schools. They also recommended anti-bias training for application readers.

“High school grades and strength of curriculum has always been the best predictor of college success. At their best, standardized tests modestly enhanced this prediction,” –Jerry Lucido, Executive Director of the Center for Enrollment Research, Policy and Practice

More emphasis on holistic applications

Supporters of the SAT claim that the test gives students a meaningful chance to demonstrate their college readiness beyond GPAs. But some experts question the claim.

“High school grades and strength of curriculum has always been the best predictor of college success. At their best, standardized tests modestly enhanced this prediction,” said Jerry Lucido, Executive Director of USC’s Center for Enrollment Research, Policy and Practice

Eliminating the SAT creates an opportunity for students to highlight other factors and achievements in their applications. 

Lucido, who also founded USC Rossier’s master’s program in enrollment management and policy, notes the shift towards more holistic application review. Colleges and universities are now taking a closer look at “student experiences and elements of student character, such as determination, goal-orientation, self-efficacy, integrity and empathy to select students and predict their success,” he said.

A reimagined standardized test?

While the SAT and ACT are now more recognized as flawed, some experts suggest that abolishing them would create other problems of inequity. UC’s Academic Senate, while opposed to the SAT, recommended keeping California’s standardized test for 11th grade students to measure aspects of their college preparation. 

Others have argued that standardized tests are necessary, but not in the way they currently function. A different exam might focus on testing critical thinking and reading skills. Revamping the test could also mean making a concerted effort to promote educational equity, allowing students who need it additional time and providing test preparation materials for free to all students.  

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