Respect Equality

California lawsuit aims to eliminate the SAT and ACT tests

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Story at a glance

  • A lawsuit alleges the use of the SAT and ACT in college admissions is unconstitutional.
  • Plaintiffs cite a substantial inherent bias in the tests centered on wealth, race and access.
  • Eliminating the tests as major requirements could help increase diversity in higher education, critics say.

If a new lawsuit is successful, the SAT and ACT, two standardized tests that are pillars in the American college admissions process, may soon be obsolete. 

A forthcoming lawsuit will dispute the use of the SAT and ACT as part of the admission process for the University of California system. Obtained by NPR, the lawsuit alleges that both standardized tests are inherently biased and do not accurately measure a student’s aptitude, making their usage in the application process unconstitutional under the California Constitution. 

The plaintiffs in the case are students and several advocacy groups and are represented by the firm Public Counsel. Attorney Mark Rosenbaum, the director of Public Counsel, said, “What the SAT and ACT are doing are exacerbating inequalities in the public school system and keeping out deserving students every admissions cycle.” 

The plaintiffs point to research showing bias in standardized tests; one study highlights the score discrepancy between black and white students. Researchers found that white students performed better by approximately 100 points on the verbal portion of the test. Mathematics scores did not show a significant difference, but the verbal score discrepancies led researchers to believe the test is culturally biased against black students. 

The report also confirmed that wealthier students consistently perform better than less wealthy students. 

In response to the criticism, the maker of the SAT introduced the idea of “adversity scores,” which are intended to increase diversity by taking the students’ socioeconomic factors, such as crime rates in local neighborhoods, poverty levels and other metrics, into account. This idea was dropped earlier this year

Forgoing standardized tests as a key part of the college admissions process is gaining traction in the realm of higher education. In 2019 alone, 47 institutions dropped the SAT and ACT requirements, going “test optional.” Amid the widely publicized celebrity college admissions scandal, more colleges and universities are under pressure to eliminate any wealth and racial biases in the college admissions process.  

Rosenbaum admits that the problem of racial bias in college admissions is more deeply rooted than an exam, but hopes that the lawsuit will “fuel a larger conversation around college admissions.”