UC slams the door on standardized admissions tests, nixing any SAT alternative

I think the issue here is that there will be no standardized test at all.

UC is using only 14 criteria to assess the students, sounds a bit low, U of Maryland uses 26 :))

Given the choice between what the college considers a low value standardized test and no standardized test, do you expect the college to use the low value standardized test just to use a standardized test?


All of these things hugely favor privilege. Prep schools can provide a club for each kid to be an officer of. Big schools in middle and working class towns can not. Prep schools have guidance counselors on speed dial with the AO’s at T20 schools. Big school GC’s are responsible for 150 or 200 kids each, including placing kids in trade schools and community colleges.


You either want to have an across the board reference point or you don’t. There is nothing in between.

Personally I would prefer to use AP exam scores to show in-depth mastery of subject material. The problem is that these exams are not taken by students widely enough (especially in junior year since senior year scores aren’t available in time), except for those kids applying to the very top colleges.

And more importantly those exams expose much more than SAT/ACT the very poor quality of teaching in many of our schools. For that reason any such move would undoubtedly be opposed by the teachers unions. However I’m interested to see that our local charter high school requires all its students to take at least one AP (including taking the exam) as part of their preparation for college readiness. And A level results in the UK are published for every high school and used as a lever to force poorly performing schools to improve (particularly through parent pressure).

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Except that all of these things are examined in the context of the applicant. The EC’s of a rich kid at a swanky Bay Area prep school are not being compared to the EC’s a poor applicant from a small, rural, and poor community of farm laborers in the Central Valley. This is what you keep missing. In contrast, the factor that does “hugely favor privilege” is the SAT.


I am not sure that I would necessarily point to correlation with graduation rates to justify or eliminate the use of standardized test scores. For many colleges, graduation is a pretty low bar. Since much of the debate and angst on CC is over the “fairness” of who gets into T20/T50 colleges, here a higher ranked UC vs another UC, CS or CC. I will limit my observation to those.

For those colleges with sub 20% acceptance rates, they most likely have enough qualified candidates to fill another entire class or multiples more. For them, test scores IMO, are a filtering device that gives them a standardized base line comparison (in fact the only standardized measurement across all applicants) as another data point for very limited spots among multiples of qualified applicants and not as a predictor of who will graduate – we don’t need test scores above some relatively low base numbers for that, especially combined with the other data points that Data listed. We saw in the Harvard litigation that tests scores were a very important criteria in the Academic score with certain minimums called out by level. Schools are free though to put the scores in the context of the applicants’ background with perceived advantages and disadvantages. The College Board even tried to formulize such an adjustment, which never really caught on because the AO’s at the top schools already were making these kinds of adjustments internally. Going back to graduation rates, clearly there are score (and GPA) levels well below the overall median that still yield an almost 100% graduation rate. Again, going back to the Harvard litigation derived data, we see that only a very small proportion of athletes would have gotten in but for their athletic recruit status. I now look at the latest graduation success rates reported by the Ivies for athletes at a combined 98, with Harvard at 99. Ivy League Paces Nation in NCAA Graduation Success Rate for 10th-Straight Year - Ivy League Harvard’s overall graduation rate is at 98%. Now taking a look at Harvard’s CDS, there are a good chunk of students who score below 700, with 1%± scoring below 600 in one of the 2 sections. I now look at UCB where the 6 year graduation rate is close to 92%. I suspect a good portion of the fall out has to do with affordability vs inability to do the school work. Its pretty obvious to me that test scores at these schools is a way to choose among multiples of applicants who can clearly do the work. This is not about “fairness”, but the makeup of the entering class that best fits the school’s current ideals.

This move by California has nothing to do with admissions fairness on an individual basis. It seems obvious that the powers that be do not like the current demographic makeup of the UC system, especially at the top schools with the passage of Prop 209 and the failure of Prop 16 to pass. Since this is a zero sum game, increasing the proportion of a certain group of students that are underrepresented necessarily reduces spots for the groups that are over represented. Personally, I think diversity of background and experience is important, even critical, for the education of a body of students as a whole, but it will necessarily result in individual instances where some students are denied admissions even though by one or more measures they have higher achievement levels than some students who are admitted. However, I also believe much of the anti-testing movement is politically driven because testing exposes the failure of public K-12 for certain groups. It is easier to finesse outcomes by eliminating testing and increasing more manipulatable subjective measures and then declare victory vs doing the hard work of improving K-12.


What I find ironic is that some who advocate elimination of test scores also recommend that students find their academic fit based on test score ranges. No one has ever recommended using HSGPA distributions. What do students do going forward if test score ranges are no longer available?

The UC system has enomous impact on higher education because of its size and prestige. What happens in California isn’t going to stay in California. That’s the primary reason opponents of testing have focused on the state. There will be a ripple effect. HS’s in other states that send a large number of students to CA will be forced to compete with each other by inflating their grades. Colleges in other states that enroll a large number of CA students will also try to eliminate testing to attract those students. So, this issue isn’t limited to UCs, or even Calfifornia.


For UCs (even before COVID-19), it has not been a good idea to rely on SAT/ACT score ranges as the main means to determining admission reach/match/likely/safety. Many “UC disappointment” posts appear to be from applicants who were SAT/ACT discrepant who assumed that their SAT/ACT scores matched them to various UC campuses, while it is likely that their HS GPAs resulted in their disappointing results.

Here is a table of fall 2020 UC admission rates by HS GPA range (numbers from a UC web site). Note that this UC web site does not have similar numbers for SAT/ACT scores (the fall 2020 entering class was the last one with SAT/ACT scores used), which should be a hint that UC did not consider SAT/ACT scores as important as HS GPA even then.

This is the table I usually post when someone asks for chances of frosh admission to UCs.

Recalculate your HS GPA with GPA Calculator for the University of California – RogerHub . Use the weighted capped version for the table below.

Fall 2020 admission rates by campus and HS GPA range from Freshman fall admissions summary | University of California :

Campus 4.20+ 3.80-4.19 3.40-3.79 3.00-3.39
Berkeley 37% 14% 2% 1%
Davis 86% 55% 16% 7%
Irvine 60% 38% 9% 1%
Los Angeles 38% 8% 1% 1%
Merced 98% 97% 95% 88%
Riverside 97% 90% 65% 30%
San Diego 78% 39% 8% 1%
Santa Barbara 81% 40% 9% 2%
Santa Cruz 92% 82% 59% 26%

These are for the whole campus. Different divisions or majors may have different levels selectivity (usually, engineering and computer science majors are more selective).


Two small sample size anecdotes to back this - we know of a NMF (so high test scores) that did not get into the top 2 UCs, but did get into a top 10 school. When our oldest was going through the admissions cycle, UCSB and UCD had nearly identical average GPA and test score ranges for admitted students. Our kid (99.5+ percentile on SAT) got a Regents scholarship at one and waitlisted at the other. That seemed like an extreme difference. Things felt pretty unpredictable at that point.

A few years later when I was looking, it seemed like a 4.0 unweighted GPA was the biggest predictor of getting admitted to UCLA - more so than test scores and weighted GPA. Between our kids who both had about the same percentile in test scores, 1 less B and slightly more rigor made admission decisions much more predictable.

As I indicated in my prior posts, my concern isn’t limited to UCs or California. CA public high school curriculum may be more standardized across the state, but is grading more consistent? In any event, UCs also enroll a large number of students from other states.

I knew a teacher who was suffering from mental illness. Kids, parents, and everyone suffered. But the school couldn’t let her go because of poor performance because the teacher already received tenure (which union negotiated for). The teacher took the rest of the semester off and came back the following year. Union adds protection for the teachers, but do you want your kids to be taught by a bad teacher that can’t be fired?

The thread has devolved into a debate over the value of test optional and standardized tests in general. Which would not be so bad except it is (mostly) the same users having the same debate that got other threads on the same topic shut down. Which again would not be so bad if the discussion remained civil, but it hasn’t. As a last-ditch effort before shutting the thread, I have enabled slow mode to allow users time to consider what is posted, as well as (hopefully) allow new ones to join the conversation focusing more on the UCs.


The post you quoted discusses both grade inflation and restricted range. It also mentions that tests are not the only way to better control for different degrees of rigor and grade inflation among different student’s HS transcripts. Nobody has said that HS GPA should be used in isolation, without considering anything else or trying to better control for difference in rigor and grade inflation, including all University of California system proposals.

The first referenced study in the article found that "looking at cohorts of high school graduates who finished from 1998 to 2016, the average high school GPA went up from 3.27 to 3.38." This seems like a different magnitude of increase than you are suggesting.

You are saying that grade inflation is a new issue and 8 years ago is “pre-GPA grade inflation”? The graph below shows average HS GPA over time. Note that the steepest increase in GPA occurred in the 1960s and 1970s, during the Vietnam draft period. The studies you referenced in your post suggest a more gradual increase in recent years.


I think you are trying to say that this was a bad outcome, when I see this as a situation that worked out correctly, thanks to a union. If she was suffering from mental illness, that does not mean she was or is a bad teacher. She took time off, and came back when she was ready. Would it have been preferable to you if she was fired and could not get another job, so couldn’t afford housing or food? The problem with examples, is that they are only representative of themselves. I also know a teacher who suffered ill health, due to a chronic illness and stress. They were “let go” and struggled for 2 years to return to teaching. They are a good teacher.
The bbc world service had a story today, about Starbucks workers trying to unionize in NY state. Give it a listen. There are reasons why there are unions.


@BKSquared You just totally nailed it. I would really like to see the passionate anti-test movement instead take on and shed more light on what’s happening in K-12. Not only do some want to hide the lack of delivery of grade standard learning but now some want to eliminate opportunities for higher achieving students and stop holding kids accountable for deadlines, etc. We should be working hard in California to uplift all kids.


@BKSquared, I think your post draws a very important distinction that others may be blurring. You recognize that there is a difference between identifying qualified applicants, on the one hand, and choosing between these qualified applicants, on the other.

With regard to the former you wrote, "we don’t need test scores above some relatively low base numbers for that, especially combined with the other data points that Data listed.” I generally agree with this, but would add that while some colleges might rely on “some relatively low base” test score as a qualifying indicator, other colleges are quite capable of identifying “qualified” applicants without relying to test scores. (Test blind colleges for example, or the UC’s top 9% eligibility rules, for another.). So it is at least possible to distinguish between qualified and unqualified students without reliance on a low bar test score. Yet almost all of the complaints about the UC’s test blind policy seem to focus on this “qualification” issue, as if test blind necessarily means that unqualified kids are going to overrun the UC system. This seems misguided, at best.

With regard to the latter, you wrote:

Again I agree. It isn’t about identifying qualified students and it most certainly isn’t about fairness to any individual student. It is about creating a class which meet the mission, goals, and needs of that school. For some schools that may mean stocking up on certain types of qualified students, whether it be students from rural and/or underrepresented areas representing a variety of perspectives, math superstars, or a host of other characteristics. And institutions have different missions; the educational mission in a large diverse state system like the UC system may be different than a small private STEM school like Cal Tech (both of which are test blind, by the way). As you put it, “this move by California has nothing to do with admissions fairness on an individual basis.” But that is equally true of every top school, isn’t it?

Keeping all this in mind, the opposition to test blind admissions becomes less a legitimate complaint about the inability of the UC’s to identify qualified applicants, and more about parents and others wanting the UC polices to line up with their preferred student profile. And with regard to parents, the preferred student profile is often a reflection of their children’s profiles.

With regard to your “zero sum” statement, this is true by definition as percentages go. But it isn’t necessarily true from a numbers perspective. For example, this year (with test blind admissions) the UC’s admitted one percent less Asian students (from 35% to 34%) but they also admitted a higher number of Asian applicants for the freshman class and by transfer. Given the over-abundance of qualified students, expansion would alleviate a lot of the tensions.

Perhaps more significantly, dividing the pie in California isn’t as simple as dividing by race. I may be wrong, but don’t think that focusing more on academic performance in high school is necessarily aimed at some predetermined racial balancing. IMO the move seems more aimed at increasing accessibility to economically and educationally disadvantaged students, whatever their race.

If, for example, a relatively high percentage of Asian students are in the top 9% (in their communities and/or statewide) by UC weighted gpa, then that will still be reflected in UC admissions. Kids who take all the rigorous courses their schools offer and who excel compared to their peers may see their odds improve slightly, while those who attend high performing high schools where extremely high test scores are the norm may see their odds decrease slightly. What this will do to the percentages by race I am not sure, but the goal of making access to UCs less dependent upon economic advantage seems a laudable one.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.


Interesting take

If the sole purpose of UCs’ action is to help students of lower SES, they could give these students an extra admission boost (e.g. extra points on standardized test scores to offset disadvantages they face) based solely on their SES, without placing greater weights on admission factors that continue to disadvantage them.

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