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University of California system faces lawsuit over use of SAT/ACT in admissions

Civil rights coalition threatens legal action if the university system persists in requiring test scores.

There’s a new player in the midst of the UC system’s test debate. A coalition of civil rights groups and other non-profit entities delivered a letter to the Board of Regents on October 29th, threatening legal action over the UC’s use of the SAT and ACT in college admissions. The coalition includes the Compton Unified School District, College Seekers, and the Dolores Huerta Foundation. 

The letter argues that the SAT and ACT are discriminatory in nature and favor students who come from privileged backgrounds. According to the letter-writers, the tests’ inherent biases violate the California constitution’s equal protection clause. 

As Inside Higher Ed’s Scott Jaschik notes, this new angle to the testing debate could significantly change the tone of the discussion, and not just for California: “Most actions against the SAT or ACT to date have simply been to convince colleges to stop requiring them. Litigation, if successful, would raise the stakes.”

Both the SAT and ACT fiercely deny the accusation of discrimination. In a statement to the Associated Press, Ed Colby, spokesperson for the ACT, said, “Blaming standardized tests for differences in educational quality and opportunities that exist will not improve educational outcomes.” The College Board’s response was on a similar note: “The notion that the SAT is discriminatory is false. Any objective measure of student achievement will shine a light on inequalities in our education system.” Essentially, the test-makers argue that their tests cannot be held responsible for the large-scale forces that shape students’ educational pathways.

If the coalition does file suit against the university system, it will be a case to watch. California is a trend-setter in the world of college admissions – the UC system is the largest public university system in the United States – and the result will have repercussions across the nation.

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