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University of California must stop considering ACT, SAT in admissions, judge rules

The board of regents had already voted to suspend the standardized testing requirement, but in the first phase, it remained optional at some campuses.
Image: UCLA, US-virus-health-epidemic-UCLA
A student wears a face mask as he leaves the campus of the UCLA college in Westwood, California on March 6, 2020.Mark Ralston / AFP - Getty Images

The University of California system must stop using ACT or SAT test scores for admissions or scholarship decisions, a judge ruled while citing the disadvantages the procedure places on applicants with disabilities.

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Brad Seligman issued the preliminary injunction in an order dated Monday, in which he acknowledged arguments that the ability of students with disabilities to take those tests during the COVID-19 pandemic and its disruptions is almost nonexistent.

The tests have long been criticized as favoring wealthier students or disadvantaging minorities.

The UC system, which has 10 campuses, in May had decided to suspend the standardized test requirement for all California freshmen applicants until fall 2024 — but some campuses kept it as an option in the first phase of that change.

That negatively impacts those with disabilities, Seligman wrote in the order.

"Unlike their non-disabled peers, they do not have the option to submit test scores; even if they did, their chances of obtaining necessary test accommodations are virtually non-existent," the judge wrote.

"They get no second look or 'plus factor' that non-disabled students are afforded in the admissions process," Seligman wrote.

The campuses that chose to use the tests as an option would first evaluate applicants without scores, according to the ruling. But for applicants who chose to submit them at those campuses, there would be a second review that considers the scores.

The judge noted that while the absence of a test was not to be used against a student, it was acknowledged that the inclusion of a test result could only help someone's chances.

UC said in a statement Tuesday that "UC respectfully disagrees with the Court’s ruling," and that it is evaluating whether to take further legal action.

Public Counsel, which was part of the lawsuit, in a statement called the judge’s ruling "groundbreaking" and said "the decision recognized that the use of the tests at UC campuses would create a two-tier system inaccessible to students with disabilities and ultimately harmful to students."

Mark Rosenbaum, director of Public Counsel’s Opportunity Under Law project, said in that statement that the UC Board of Regents had "set up a test optional scheme for students without disabilities," which discriminated against those with disabilities.

One student cited by the judge just graduated from high school has learning disabilities but completed all the UC requirements to apply. He planned to take a "gap year" this year because he hasn't been able to take the SAT.

Starting in 2023, all campuses were to become "test-blind" for admissions purposes, meaning those tests would not be used even as an option, according to UC.

"University admissions officials and faculty are best positioned to determine appropriate admissions decisions and procedures, taking into account the individual needs and priorities of a particular campus," UC said in Tuesday's statement.

Critics of the tests have long argued the SAT and ACT tests put minority and low-income students at a disadvantage because the test questions often contain inherent bias that more privileged children are better equipped to answer.

Wealthier students also tend to take expensive prep courses that help boost their scores, which many students can’t afford, opponents of the tests have said.

UC said in Tuesday's statement that it "remains committed to enrolling a student body that reflects the broad diversity of cultural, racial, geographic, and socioeconomic backgrounds characteristic of California."

The University of California system and its 10 campuses — including UC San Francisco which is for graduate and professional education only — enrolls more than 280,000 students and has more than 227,000 faculty and staff, according to its website.