In California and across the nation, there has been a growing focus on increasing college access by improving college readiness for high school students and encouraging more eligible students to attend college. To this end, many states and educational institutions have changed how they use college entrance exams like the SAT and ACT.
One approach has been to have more students take the SAT or ACT in hopes of identifying those who are eligible for college but might not have taken a college entrance exam on their own. As of 2016–17, 25 states use the SAT or ACT as their standardized test for 11th graders.
Assemblymember O’Donnell (D-Long Beach) has proposed AB 1951, which would give districts the option to use the SAT or ACT in place of California’s 11th-grade standardized test. Though Governor Brown vetoed the bill at the end of the 2017–18 legislative session, O’Donnell promised to bring it back in the next session, when California has a new governor.
But even as many states are administering the SAT or ACT to all students, a growing number of colleges and universities are dropping these tests as an entrance requirement. Citing concerns about biases in the exams, as well as the extra financial or time constraints for students, liberal arts colleges like Mills College in California and prominent universities such as the University of Chicago have made submitting test scores optional. Currently, California State University (CSU) does not require students to submit an SAT score (though most still do) if they meet the high school GPA threshold of 3.0 or higher. Despite this trend, most four-year colleges continue to use college entrance exams in their admissions decisions and a growing share of high school graduates take either the SAT or ACT.
In his veto message, the governor suggested another possible way to expand eligibility. California universities could consider using the state’s standardized test (SBAC) as an eligibility measure. All California 11th graders in public schools take the SBAC, which is aligned with the Common Core State Standards and is already used as an early diagnostic of college readiness at CSU and many community colleges. New evidence suggests that the SBAC does as well as the SAT in predicting first-year performance at California’s public universities.
Any of these strategies could increase the number of students eligible for California’s universities—but not all of them would work well together. For example, the University of California and CSU are further scrutinizing the role of the SAT in the admissions process. If the systems decide to drop the SAT requirement, then AB 1951 might have less of an impact. Looking forward, as state policymakers and districts continue to craft policies to improve college access, they should first consider how California’s universities are using—or not using—standardized tests.