University of California Board of Regents unanimously approved changes to standardized testing requirement for undergraduates

Nov. 24, 2020 update to May 21, 2020 release: Subsequent events have changed how the University of California will evaluate applications for Fall 2021 admissions. UC will not consider SAT or ACT test scores when making admissions decisions or awarding Regents and Chancellor’s scholarships. For students who choose to submit standardized test scores as part of their applications, the University may use them to determine eligibility for the California statewide admissions guarantee, as an alternative method of fulfilling minimum requirements for eligibility, or for course placement after they enroll.

The University of California Board of Regents today (May 21) unanimously approved the suspension of the standardized test requirement (ACT/SAT) for all California freshman applicants until fall 2024. The suspension will allow the University to create a new test that better aligns with the content the University expects students to have mastered for college readiness. However, if a new test does not meet specified criteria in time for fall 2025 admission, UC will eliminate the standardized testing requirement for California students.

“Today’s decision by the Board marks a significant change for the University’s undergraduate admissions,” said UC President Janet Napolitano. “We are removing the ACT/SAT requirement for California students and developing a new test that more closely aligns with what we expect incoming students to know to demonstrate their preparedness for UC.”

“I think this is an incredible step in the right direction toward aligning our admissions policy with the broad-based values of the University,” UC Board of Regents Chair John A. Pérez said before the vote. “I see our role as fiduciaries and stewards of the public good and this proposal before us is an incredible step in the right direction.”

The following outlines the Regents’ actions:

  • Test-optional for fall 2021 and fall 2022: Campuses will have the option to use ACT/SAT test scores in selection consideration if applicants choose to submit them, and will develop appropriate policies and procedures to implement the Board’s decision.
  • Test-blind for fall 2023 and fall 2024: Campuses will not consider test scores for California public and independent high school applicants in admissions selection, a practice known as “test-blind” admissions. Test scores could still be considered for other purposes such as course placement, certain scholarships and eligibility for the statewide admissions guarantee.
  • New standardized test: Starting in summer 2020 and ending by January 2021, UC will undertake a process to identify or create a new test that aligns with the content UC expects students to have mastered to demonstrate college readiness for California freshmen.
  • Elimination of the ACT/SAT test requirement: By 2025, any use of the ACT/SAT would be eliminated for California students and a new UC-endorsed test to measure UC-readiness would be required. However, if by 2025 the new test is either unfeasible or not ready, consideration of the ACT/SAT for freshman admissions would still be eliminated for California students.
  • Elimination of writing test: The University will eliminate altogether the SAT Essay/ACT Writing Test as a requirement for UC undergraduate admissions, and these scores will not be used at all effective for fall 2021 admissions.

Meanwhile, President Napolitano will ask the Academic Senate to work with University administration to determine the appropriate approach for out-of-state and international students beginning in 2025. While nonresident students are expected to complete comparable coursework, their high school courses are not pre-approved by UC in the same way as California high school courses. Assessing nonresident students without a standardized test presents challenges in terms of fairness and practicality. Several possible options for nonresidents that may be considered include extending the new content-based test required of California students to out-of-state applicants as well, or requiring scores from the ACT, SAT or other approved standardized test(s).

In March, UC temporarily suspended the current standardized test requirement for fall 2021 applicants to mitigate impacts of COVID-19 on students and schools, effectively making UC “test-optional” for that year. UC will now keep tests optional for an additional year through 2022. For 2023 and 2024, UC will be test-blind, which means students will still have the option of submitting a test score, but that score can only be considered for purposes such as course placement, certain scholarships and eligibility for the statewide admissions guarantee. 

The University’s response to the pandemic has provided an opportunity in the coming years for UC to pause and analyze additional, real-time data on the impacts of test-optional and test-blind admissions. The suspension allows UC to address concerns about equitable treatment for all students regardless of whether they submit a standardized test score. The Regents’ vote also acknowledges the likely ongoing impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic on students, families and schools.

Today’s decision marks the culmination of a two-year, research-based effort by UC to evaluate the value and use of standardized tests in admissions. That process began in July 2018 when President Napolitano asked the Academic Senate to evaluate whether the University and its students are best served by current standardized testing practices. The Academic Senate convened the Standardized Testing Task Force (STTF) in January 2019 and their findings were finalized and presented to the president in April 2020.

The changes are aimed at making available a properly designed and administered test that adds value to the admissions decision process and improves educational quality and equity in California, even in these challenging times. During this period, UC will learn what it can about how its policies affect student achievement and access.

In the coming months, President Napolitano will request that the Academic Senate further review UC’s current admissions guarantees, including the statewide eligibility pathway and Eligibility in the Local Context (ELC), which offers an admissions guarantee to the top students in California high schools. Students meeting the statewide index or designated as ELC who are not admitted to any of the UC campuses to which they apply are offered a spot at another UC campus if space is available. The president will also ask the Academic Senate to conduct additional analysis and a review of factors relating to representation of California’s diverse high school student population, including A-G course access, student outreach, recruitment and support services.

See the timeline below for the future of standardized testing at UC:

Timeline for the future of standardized testing at UC
Entering class Plan What this means Campuses may use test scores for
2021-2022 (current 10th and 11th graders) Test-optional
  • All students have the option of submitting ACT/SAT scores.
  • Students will not be penalized in the admissions review process for not submitting ACT/SAT scores.
  • Students will no longer be required to submit the SAT Essay/ACT Writing Test.
  • Admissions
  • Scholarships
  • Post-enrollment course placement
  • Statewide eligibility for admissions guarantee
2023-2024 (current 8th and 9th graders) Test-blind
  • All California public and independent high school students have the option to submit ACT/SAT scores, but those scores may not be used in making admissions decisions.
  • Update as of August 2020: UC Board of Admissions and Relations with Schools (BOARS), the committee of the Academic Senate which oversees all matters of undergraduate admissions, has extended going test-blind to nonresidents.
  • Scholarships
  • Post-enrollment course placement
  • Statewide eligibility for admissions guarantee
2025-beyond (current 7th graders) *If there is a new test by fall 2025
  • All California high school students submit scores from new test.
  • New test made available to private/independent and out-of-state schools.
  • Nonresidents and international students submit test scores from the new test or will follow the appropriate approach as determined by the University.
  • Admissions
  • Scholarships
  • Post-enrollment course placement
  • Statewide eligibility for admissions guarantee
*If no new test is ready by fall 2025
  • UC will eliminate altogether its standardized testing requirement for California freshman admissions.
  • Academic Senate to work with University administration on appropriate approach for nonresident students.
  • To be determined