Pictured: Prospective CLU students will no longer be required to submit SAT and ACT test scores as part of their admission package, starting in Fall 2021. (Photo submitted)

by Alex Wilson

California Lutheran University (CLU) officials recently decided to stop requiring standardized test scores from prospective undergraduate students starting with the Fall 2021 semester.

The permanent switch to a test-optional admissions policy at the Thousand Oaks-based university has been in the works for several years, and was not directly related to the serious difficulties facing educators due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Some researchers believe high school GPA is a better predictor of college success, regardless of test scores. CLU Dean of Undergraduate Admissions Michael Elgarico says SAT and ACT tests have also been shown to be culturally biased against low income candidates and underrepresented minorities.

“Our university has always been in a position to practice holistic education. What that means is looking very broadly at a candidate,” said Elgarico. “We really want to enroll students who show that they cannot just be successful, but they also demonstrate character, citizenship, grit, and determination that isn’t always readily measured.”

Researchers have found that students from more affluent families can afford expensive test preparation classes and tutors that provide an advantage. They’re also more likely to pay to re-take tests to improve their scores.

Elgarico said that CLU’s move away from standardized testing appears to be a trend.

“I think part of that was really being responsive to the broader shift. Universities and colleges have looked very closely at it. We’re certainly not the first to do this,” said Elgarico.

Even though test scores will not be required for most applicants, certain students will still be required to submit them. Those include homeschooled students, ones who attended high schools that give written evaluations instead of letter grades, and students competing for CLU’s top academic scholarship.

Students who choose not to submitting test scores will still be required to send a full application, including academic transcripts, letters of recommendation and the answers to four supplemental questions. Applicants may, if they choose, submit test scores that will be considered part of their entire admission package.

The trend to de-emphasize standardized testing scores is most prevalent among relatively small private schools like CLU. For larger institutions, such as the University of California (UC) and California State University (CSU) systems, there’s more resistance. While it’s true that the coronavirus has led many colleges and universities to put a temporary hold on testing requirements for at least one year, those requirements will likely be brought back as soon as possible.

CSU Channel Islands Assistant Vice President for Enrollment Management Ginger Reyes said that, due to the coronavirus, the decision was made to temporarily suspend the use of test scores for admission eligibility at all CSU campuses for students starting classes in the fall of 2021. One reason is that students can’t take the tests in the usual ways due to stay-at-home orders and social distancing requirements. Reyes says it remains unclear if classes will even be held on campus or online for the upcoming fall 2020 semester.

“We are planning for our fall term as if we will be coming back to campus but we also have to make sure that we have plans in place if we have to pivot,” said Reyes. “There are a lot of unknowns and moving parts because we’re not only working with the governor but also the chancellor’s office and our local community.”

She says there is some growing agreement in the academic world about doing away with standardized test requirements permanently.

“It allows students to have more of a holistic review,” said Reyes. “So I think it broadens your applicant pool.”

Even so, Reyes says any decisions to permanently eliminate the test requirements at the CSU and UC systems would need to undergo considerable review.