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Is California dropping standardized tests like the SAT and ACT?

June 17, 2020

Recent breaking news coming out of California may affect you and your college dreams. University of California, the nation’s premier public university has confirmed a five-year staged plan to ditch the SAT and ACT for college entry on all ten of its campuses.

Should you be celebrating … or worried?

That may sound exciting or appealing to you on the surface, but don’t pack your beach gear just yet. These rumblings are still in their infancy and the details of specific plans are very scant to say the least

Honestly, it’s too soon to tell if it’s good or bad news. It comes at the strangest of times in the year of the fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic So many things have been put on hold. Including--naturally enough--your ability to sit for the ACT and SAT tests. Like so many things, social distancing has put a stop to what we used to call “business as usual”.

In this article, I want to broadly tell you about the changes and how they may affect you. But more importantly, with everything going on, you really need a roadmap. I’ll answer the obvious question: Should you continue to prepare for any of the standardized tests traditionally used for college entry and scholarship awards?

The story so far

So, University of California has been debating over the last two years whether to ditch the SAT and ACT score requirement for college entry. Add to that a lawsuit against the education giant calling for the college-admission test obligation to be dropped. The civil rights group claimed the test requirement discriminates against those who cannot afford testing and disadvantages students, citing differences in race, income and parental education. They argue that there is not equal access to test-prep and thus there is no level playing field. I’ll get into some of the nitty gritty later.

CA is considering creating their own entrance exam in a few years. No doubt, it will have to be standardized, like the SAT and ACT, to meet the criterion for all students regardless of their socioeconomic background—so what’s the point of eliminating these tests? Ironically, the SAT partnered with Khan Academy in 2016 for free SAT test prep for the very reason of accessibility for all students to prep.

It is true that minorities and those of lower income are under-represented in college. However, in all my years helping people like you—from all walks of life, from all minorities and groups—I have been witness to a testing system that seems to do what it intends. And that is, to level the playing field for all students regardless of socio-economic background who choose to participate.

The COVID conundrum

In this time of COVID, quite a number of tertiary institutions have followed suit--even though only temporarily--to negate the need for a standardized test rating for Fall 2021 admissions, while others have made it optional. At the time of writing, 73 schools have temporarily waived the need for SAT and ACT results for the 2020 intake. And at least 500 schools are “de-emphasizing” the ACT/SAT in college admissions, but only for the Fall 2021 intake. Most retractors will reinstate the tests next year.

Don’t mix those two things together

As you can see, the possible ramifications brought about by the decision to remove the need for reliance on the ACT and SAT standardized tests in some of the institutions in California might just be getting mixed up with the temporary changes in other parts of the country.

I’m absolutely positive it will be a long time before a national approach to standardized testing (that is, the ACT, SAT and the CLT etc.) evolve to something different.

In the meantime, especially if your planned entry to college is post-COVID fallout, count on needing the tests. And remember, anywhere where two systems are going to be used for measuring your aptitude, if you strongly qualify with both systems, you’ll be hedging your bets and be in a far better position than those who submit with reliance on just one.  So work on all of the entrance tests—they are so similar, strategies for one, work for the others.

Is this a bold and visionary move?

On one hand this decision is supposed to improve tertiary access and equity. But you’d have to wonder what is going to be measured (and how), if these standardized tests are wiped from the system.

With objectivity gone, there are some important issues to ponder. If grades are going to be relied upon, how will teacher biases be removed? How will the effects on false inflation of grades (to make some or all students more attractive to colleges) be factored in? It is very feasible that colleges could be attended by many ill-prepared students who coast on trumped-up transcripts.

These issues alone are good reasons to keep a system that focuses on standardized tests. Grading a student’s work is very subjective. Scoring a highly formulaic test designed to test logic and critical thinking creates the “apples with apples” comparisons needed for such an enormous pool of contestants on the national scale.

There is no perfect system

The Regents of UC agreed unanimously to phase out the tests. The gradual phasing out was to satisfy those regents who didn’t agree wholeheartedly with a sudden and complete exit from the current system.

They aren’t the only people who do not agree with the contentious move. A large dedicated task force of the UC system overwhelmingly supports a test-optional system and keeping the SAT and ACT. They maintain that the SAT helps disadvantaged students gain entry to the selective UC system because perceived biases have been corrected for.

Kim Wilcox of Riverside heads up the most diverse cohort in the UC system. He says he owes his success and the vast diversity of his student body to the current admissions process of SAT and ACT testing. He has relied on the predictive value of a student’s academic success. Riverside has a large proportion of low-income, first generation and under-represented student groups. I wonder why his example has not been followed by other divisions of the UC behemoth.

Do I think the SAT or ACT and other standardized tests are perfect? Heck, no! But it’s a system that works for the most part. Did you know that the admissions officers of the ten University of California campuses currently use the SAT and ACT as a piece of the puzzle and adjust for other factors such as family income and how a score compares with others at the same high school? Disadvantaged students with lower test scores that are more than those of their advantaged peers, already have their situations considered.

What are the proposed changes?

  • Over the next two years tests will be optional.
  • If you’re a Californian resident entering in 2023 and 2024, then scores would not be used for admission.
  • But if you’re from out-of-state, you will be able to use either the SAT/ACT or any new test UC has developed.
  • UC would partially go “test-blind” and will still use the tests to award scholarships.
  • Also, there is a provision for state guaranteed admissions to admit those in the top eighth of high schools in California, based on, you guessed it, test results.
  • In 2025, the aim of UC is to have you sit a newly created admissions test. You would take this as a state resident, and available for other states to use. Non-residents and international students will also be able to submit SAT and ACT scores.

My apples are definitely getting mixed up with my oranges and parsnips! The teething part of any potential new system is in danger of being fraught with mistakes and difficulty.

Bottom line. What should you do?

Keep up your prep. You’ll develop skills that will stand you in good stead for the rest of your life. Better than that, you may just find you’ve added a powerful string to your bow and have rounded out a very impressive and attractive transcript.

Truth is, you can find college prep courses that are both free and low cost. Khan Academy is freely accessible to all. The US is a free market and you’ll find products that fit many buyers. The college prep market is no different. What you pay for something does not necessarily correlate with quality. Being wealthy doesn’t mean a bigger financial investment will buy you better results.

Whether you are rich or poor, no matter what your socio-economic identification, the best investment for best results is preparation. That’s right, practice. You put the time in, you will do better. You have the motivation, you can find a way. Yes, it helps to have someone to pay for the prep-course of your choice. But there are free resources out there.

I’m still wondering

If UC cannot produce their own test, and the entire standardized testing requirement is removed completely, then the question is, how will they determine placement without tests?

What about scholarships?

It seems you still need the test if you want to be in the running for a scholarship. And, you do currently need your test score if you want a scholarship, even at UC. Need I say more?

Why should this whole scenario be ringing alarm bells for you?

  • Big changes without a demonstrable plan are hard to pin hopes to.
  • My best advice to you is to hedge your bets no matter where you live. And by that I mean, continue to college-test-prep solidly. Changes may be on the way, but they don’t affect everyone. Until they do, keep up your prep.
  • The proposed change only affects less than 10% of nationwide college-seeking students and only 10 tertiary institutions in California.
  • If you have the remotest possibility of attending any of the remaining over-5000 tertiary institutions, then really, nothing much has changed. Why? Because the percentage of schools that are not changing their system, stands at a whopping 99.1% of schools.
  • The COVID-19 crisis and these changes are so far only temporary and likely to change over time.

What about the planned replacement test?

Talk of a replacement exam is interesting because it will likely carry its own biases. What they are will be determined only with use. One thing is for sure, in a free and democratic society, you’ll never remove the ability to organize paid help which has the aim of assisting students to score better on any test.

Surely, a new test will have to comprise standardized logic and in order to refer to it as a reliable instrument, use recurring patterns. I’ve said it many times before; standardized tests work because they don’t prejudice people and because you can’t compare GPAs from school to school because marking can be highly subjective. One GPA 4 probably will not be the same as a GPA 4 from elsewhere. A new system that doesn’t rely on subjective teacher grading is a very tall order.

With a “new test developed by 2025 or no test” strategy, it is very likely the test will be based on a standard unique to UC. They will find it exceedingly difficult to avoid questions that test critical thinking and logic.

UC is behind the Smarter Balanced Assessment for K-12 so it is clear they have a vested interest in their regional testing-instrument.

There is some conjecture about developing a test specific to California schools. The whole standardized testing strategy is to remove biases of demographics and sociographics—not to compromise minority groups and compare the proverbial “apples with apples”. The lack of detail seems to leave non-CA residents scrambling to figure out what criteria they will use for them. Will it still be the SAT/ACT?

Should you drop your test-prep?

  • No, don’t do that. Nothing is set in stone. It is clear the next five years are a trial.
  • It really is a matter of “watch this space”.
  • While test result submission may be optional, human bias will lean towards those who have the most well-rounded cases put forward.
  • A robust system of ranked colleges exists. It is based on test scores. It will take a long time to develop an alternative.
  • Right now, about 15% of colleges are test-optional or test-flexible. The other 85% rely on test-score submission. And, if you want to earn a scholarship, you still need an SAT/ACT score. I don’t see a detailed plan to deal with CA scholarships. And even though many of those have their own standardized entrance exams, most students still send in their SAT/ACT scores. There is a difference between being test-optional, and test-blind. A score still looks useful for both course placement and scholarships.
  • The SAT and ACT tests are tricky. They present intentionally misleading questions. But it’s all done with logic and to test your critical thinking. These are attributes of thoughtful humans at all ages. These are skills anyone can benefit from. Preparation for college stands you in good stead for your life. And yes, many people do get help with college prep. There are many expensive test-prep programs. Unfortunately, their biggest downfall is to re-teach high school content, high school math concepts and drill long vocab lists into their customers. Buyer beware.

If you want your best chance at entry to your courses or schools of choice and be able to win scholarship money and secure a brighter future, more easily, then you MUST learn the recurring patterns and the best logic-based test-taking strategies and techniques to beat the standardized tests. College Prep Genius, a successful and popular program, and is arguably the most effective and affordable program money can buy.

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Homeschooling and eLEARNING: Education in the Year of COVID-19 (Part One)

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