CSU discontinues SAT, ACT use in admissions

By Cecilia Leyva, Apr. 19, 2021

California State University trustees unanimously decided on March 22 to amend Title 5 of the California Code of Regulations, discontinuing the use of standardized tests for undergraduate admissions in all 23 CSU campuses.

The Academic Senate of the CSU first suspended the use of SAT and ACT test scores during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the Cal State University’s Admission Advisory Council did not recommend permanent removal of the standardized exams until January after analysis.

Visitors walk though the SSB at Cal Poly Pomona’s 2022 Open House. (Courtesy of Tom Zasadzinski)

During the Board of Trustees’ meeting in March, April Grommo, assistant vice chancellor for enrollment management services said, “During the temporary suspension of testing through the pandemic, CSU campuses and programs have used multiple factors to augment GPAs using a multifactor admissions score.”

With standardized tests no longer required, applicants will be evaluated based on factors such as extracurricular activities, overall GPA, subject-specific GPAs and leadership positions.

“What we’ve found is there are studies that show GPA is a stronger indicator of college success versus the SAT,” said Cal Poly Pomona’s Director of Admissions Brandon Tuck. “The GPA is also a good representation of rigor as well.”

The CSU’s admissions council similarly cited research indicating the minor value standardized test scores have in predicting student success.

“It’s a great opportunity for the CSUs to actually look at the things that matter in terms of how a student is going to do once they get here,” added Tuck.

The admissions council’s proposal to discontinue standardized testing also argued it would be a boon to the CSU’s continued efforts to eliminate student equity gaps.

Jessica Wagoner, senior associate vice president for Enrollment Management and Services at CPP, found that exams such as the SAT and ACT were a hinderance for applicants. Wagoner observed boosts to enrollment numbers following the initial suspension of entrance exams.

“We found that this has helped diversify our student population,” said Wagoner. “There was a 20% increase in freshman applications. Students felt like, ‘I have a chance to get into that school.’ The SAT has not been fair to our students.”

Wagoner also noted the increase in female students being accepted into the university’s STEM programs.

Tuck echoed similar sentiments regarding the exam suspension’s effects.

“Female students have strong GPAs,” said Tuck. “When you look at the history on College Board, female students are not performing as well as their male counterparts (in standardized tests), so once you remove that, we start looking at other factors and we saw a spike in female students accepted into our impacted STEM immediately. It’s exciting.”

While the holistic approach to student admissions is proving fruitful, the problem of student placement arises. Currently, SAT and ACT scores are still being used for placement in appropriate math and English level courses.

Wagoner noted that it has been a point of confusion for many applicants but reassures test scores are only being used for course placement temporarily.

The admissions department currently uses its own variation of the CSU’s eligibility index model to gauge applicants’ strength.

“If you are a freshman with a 2950 eligibility index, you meet CSU minimum eligibility,” explained Tuck. “Our applicant pool was actually stronger than years prior, so this was an opportunity for us to create a model that really represented Cal Poly Pomona.”

For admissions to an impacted STEM program, for instance, the university will now place a higher value on the applicant’s math GPA, the number of courses taken and applicants’ performance within those courses. Wagoner encouraged potential applicants to review CPP’s eligibility indexes by both academic year and major to ease any worries surrounding the possibility of acceptance.

Though the number of applications to the university increased, the number of admissions did not.

“With the model that we have, we think we are selecting really good students and students do have more options as well. The landscape is a lot more competitive without the SATs. It has made for a very interesting time in the world of admissions,” said Tuck.

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