A family tours Cal State Fullerton, one of 23 campuses in the California State University system that may permanently drop the SAT and ACT as an admissions requirement. (Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)
Higher Ed

Cal State poised to drop SAT as admissions requirement as chancellor supports review

The Cal State system is poised to drop the SAT and ACT as an admissions requirement after a systemwide advisory council approved scrapping the tests.

California State University, the largest four-year university system in the nation, is poised to drop the SAT and ACT as an admissions requirement — a move that would follow the University of California’s elimination of the exams and further shake up the standardized testing landscape as hundreds of campuses across the nation shift away from the assessments.

Cal State Chancellor Joseph I. Castro said Wednesday that a systemwide admission advisory council had approved a recommendation to eliminate testing requirements and that the Board of Trustees would review it in January and vote on it in March.

“I’m very supportive of that,” Castro said. “I just want folks to know that I am not interested as chancellor to make it harder for students to get into the CSU.”

A move by Cal State to drop the SAT and ACT requirement, coming after UC regents voted to do so last year, would put California in the vanguard of a national movement to eliminate standardized testing because of concerns over bias and to seek more equitable ways to assess a student’s potential for college success.

Critics say that standardized tests are an unfair admission barrier to underrepresented students, pointing to decades of research showing biased results based on race, income and parent education levels. They also say that high school grades are a better predictor of college success.

The Cal State system, which educates 486,000 students on 23 campuses, has suspended admission testing requirements for the 2022-23 academic year. But the system’s Admission Advisory Council, which is composed of faculty, students, campus presidents, other top administrators and enrollment leaders, has been studying what to do after that and approved a recommendation to permanently end the testing requirements.

Castro made his remarks during a webinar about a new report by the Campaign for College Opportunity detailing how too many qualified students are being shut out of access to UC and Cal State campuses. Michele Siqueiros, the nonprofit’s president, expressed strong support for the recommendation to end testing and the prospect that trustees could approve it next year.

“I think you can hear the loud applause, if folks were not on mute, [for] the amazing decision that will hopefully be forthcoming to increase equitable access to the Cal State system,” she said.

If trustees vote to eliminate the SAT and ACT requirement, test scores would not be used in admissions decisions at all even if submitted, said spokeswoman Toni Molle. Submitted scores could be used to help place admitted students into math and English classes, she said.

The College Board, which owns the SAT, and other testing advocates argue that the tests themselves are not biased but reflect broader educational inequities in underserved communities. The tests, combined with high school grades, are the most potent predictor of college readiness and are a uniform tool to assess students from different high schools across the nation, testing advocates assert.

UC regents unanimously voted to drop the SAT and ACT testing requirement last year. System leaders announced last month that they would permanently end standardized testing requirements after an Academic Senate group concluded it could find no alternative test that would avoid biased results. The prolonged debate was closely followed as a national harbinger of the future of standardized testing in admissions.

The number of campuses that don’t require test scores for admission has increased to 1,815 today from 1,075 two years ago — in part due to the difficulty of securing appointments for SAT and ACT tests during the COVID-19 pandemic. The share of students who submitted test scores to the Common Application, a consortium of 900 public and private colleges, fell to 43% in the 2020-21 admission season compared with 77% in 2019-20, according to Bob Schaeffer, executive director of FairTest: National Center for Fair & Open Testing.

A Cal State decision to drop testing requirements would be “hugely significant because the CSU is the largest four-year public university system in the U.S.,” Schaeffer said.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.