In summary

Though not the university’s final decision on the subject, the recommendations are a blow to critics who say the tests discriminate against low-income students and underrepresented minorities. And they are a boon to the test administrators, the College Board and ACT Inc, who offered the exams to more than 100,000 students who applied to UC last year.

Weighing in on a charged debate that could influence college admissions across the country, a University of California faculty task force recommended Monday that the university continue requiring applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores, but work to develop its own admissions test.

Though not the university’s final decision on the subject, the recommendations are a blow to critics who say the tests discriminate against low-income students and underrepresented minorities. And they are a boon to the test administrators, the College Board and ACT Inc., which offered the exams to more than 100,000 students who applied to UC last year.

The faculty committee’s report follows months of speculation about whether UC might make it optional for applicants to submit SAT or ACT scores — as more than 1,000 colleges have done — or replace them with the Smarter Balanced tests that all California 11th-graders take. The task force rejected both options.

Instead, the faculty group recommended the university keep the test requirement in place while it creates its own exam, a process it estimated could take nine years. 

While the report acknowledges that black, Latino and Native American students are underrepresented on UC campuses, and that some of that gap is due to test scores, it found that other systemic problems — such as lower rates of high school graduation and completion of college-prep courses — are bigger factors. 

Task force members said they were surprised to find that test score differences did not explain racial disparities in admission rates. They said UC’s admissions process mitigates the scores’ influence by comparing them to those of other students from the applicant’s school and considering them along with 13 other factors.

A new, UC-designed admissions test could “assess a broader array of student learning and capabilities” and “potentially show smaller disparities than current measures along the lines of race, ethnicity, and [socioeconomic status],” the report says.

Task force members said they were surprised to find that test score differences did not explain racial disparities in admission rates.

Among the five other recommendations the task force issued were expanding a UC program that guarantees admission to the top 9% of graduates from each high school in the state, and studying both university admissions practices and individual SAT and ACT test questions to root out discriminatory impact. 

The report comes in the wake of two lawsuits filed by the Compton Unified School District, community groups and individual high school students arguing that UC’s use of the tests violates the California Constitution. The nationwide college admissions scandal, in which at least two UC campuses became entangled, has also raised questions about the role economic privilege plays in easing access to the public university.

“The University of California faces a crisis of legitimacy around its undergraduate admissions processes,” the task force report reads. 

The report also hinted at dissent among task force members over the recommendations, noting that some thought the university should stop using the tests even before designing a replacement.

The issue now goes to UC’s Academic Senate, where faculty will discuss it before submitting a final recommendation in April, to be taken up by the university’s board of regents in May.

This story and other higher education coverage are supported by the College Futures Foundation.

We want to hear from you

Want to submit a guest commentary or reaction to an article we wrote? You can find our submission guidelines here. Please contact Gary Reed with any commentary questions: gary@calmatters.org, (916) 234-3081.

Felicia Mello edits CalMatters' College Journalism Network, a collaboration with student journalists across California to cover higher education from the ground up. Her reporting on affordability, equity...