Press Releases

July 23, 2020

Students Sue to Enjoin UC Regents' Use of False "Test-Optional" Admissions Policy for SAT and ACT

For Immediate Release: July 23, 2020

Media Contact: Rekha Radhakrishnan, 832-628-2312,



Regents’ decision to retain discriminatory SAT and ACT scores amidst COVID-19 pandemic exacerbates inequities for marginalized students


ALAMEDA, CALIFORNIA – July 23, 2020 – Following the University of California (UC) Regents’ widely publicized vote to phase out the use of the SAT and ACT, their decision to adopt an ostensibly “test-optional” admissions policy ignores and illegally discriminates against students with disabilities. During the pandemic, significant numbers of these students are finding it impossible to access the tests, and even if they can find locations at which to test, students whose disabilities make them vulnerable to COVID-19 must put their lives at risk to do so. Students of color and students from low-income families are also facing unprecedented barriers to taking tests that the Regents have openly acknowledged discriminate against them.

“UC’s so-called ‘test-optional’ admissions policy—which gives all applicants except students with disabilities the option of submitting an SAT or ACT score—is not ‘optional’ at all,” said Amanda Savage, Staff Attorney at Public Counsel Opportunity Under Law. “Nor are its harms limited to students with disabilities. By choosing to keep using the tests despite acknowledging that they are racist, classist, and unrelated to UC preparedness, the Regents have sent a clear message to students of color and students from low-income families: ‘You don’t matter.’”

In late May, the Regents decided to begin phasing out the SAT and ACT—tests they condemned in their May meeting as “racist,” “correlated to wealth and privilege,” and “discriminatory.” But instead of taking the obvious step—ending all reliance on the tests—the Regents chose to continue using the tests for scholarship and statewide eligibility determinations for at least four more years, and for admissions purposes for all students for two more years, under a falsely named “test-optional” policy.

Plaintiffs’ motion, filed yesterday, asks the Court to stop UC from continuing to use a test that is inaccessible to students with disabilities and that entrenches discrimination against the State’s least privileged students. The motion is supported by extensive written testimony from several of the nation’s most respected anti-racist and anti-disability discrimination experts; the leading historian on standardized admissions testing; a UC economist who has demonstrated that the tests stand in for race and privilege; a drafter of UC’s Standardized Testing Task Force report; and multiple students, family members, and community organizations serving historically marginalized groups that seek equitable college admissions. Plaintiffs’ claims are also bolstered by public statements by UC President Janet Napolitano and incoming President Michael Drake, Regents Chair John A. Pérez, Governor Gavin Newsom, and numerous individual Regents—all of whom have recognized the discriminatory nature of the tests. 

In deciding to keep the tests, the Regents completely ignored the harms that their decision would inflict on students with disabilities and their families. Even under normal circumstances, students with disabilities are required to navigate a byzantine set of requirements just to access the tests with the accommodations they need. These students must undergo costly evaluations and, since UC does not require test sites to accept students’ accommodations, must search (often in vain) for their own testing locations—all to take tests that have limited, if any, validity for them. This process has become virtually impossible to complete during the pandemic, which has resulted in widespread test cancellations and a nationwide shortage of test seats. The Regents have closed their eyes to this problem: in over six hours of deliberations about their use of the standardized tests, not a single Regent nor President Napolitano even mentioned the word “disability.”

“Students with disabilities have historically faced inequities and stigma in the college admissions process,” said Marci Lerner Miller of Miller Advocacy Group. “The COVID-19 pandemic has magnified these inequities and forced us to take a closer look at what students must overcome in order to access higher education. As we approach the 30th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act, it’s time to fully open the doors of higher education to all students.”

“On top of the usual worries about taking a high stakes test that could impact my future, I have to worry about finding a test center that can accommodate my needs or consider testing without having what I need to do my best,” said Plaintiff Stephen C.  “I worry about my health and my family’s health if I’m forced to go into an enclosed room full of people in the middle of this pandemic. I don’t think I should have to risk our health or worry about finding a place that will accept me for testing in order to be fairly considered when I apply to a UC school.”

 The Regents’ insistence on using the tests—despite acknowledging that the SAT and ACT are “racist,” of no value to the admissions or scholarship decision-making processes, and indicative only of family wealth and access to expensive test preparation classes—also causes enormous harm to students of color and students from low-income families. These students correctly understand that the Regents have deliberately preserved a racist metric that disadvantages them and advantages white and affluent students. As Dr. David E. Kirkland, Professor of Urban Education and Executive Director for the Metropolitan Center for Research on Equity and the Transformation of Schools at New York University, explained: “The maintenance of the SAT and ACT after public acknowledgement of their racist character does, in itself, constitute a racist act.”

Lisa Holder, Of Counsel at Equal Justice Society, said: “The Regents have publicly admitted that the SAT and ACT are racist tests that advantage wealthy white student applicants. Nevertheless, the Regents have opted to retain the tests for the next two years under a supposedly ‘test-optional’ regime. ‘Test-optional’ translates to racism-optional and signals to students of color that they are not valued at UC as highly as their white student cohort. This implicitly biased message and explicitly biased process reinforce and replicate centuries of psychic and economic violence against youth of color and exponentially exacerbate California’s racial and educational wealth gap.”

 Dropping the SAT and ACT will remove a false signal from the UC admissions process, which already includes 13 other factors that assess a student’s ability to succeed at UC, including academic achievement and personal qualities.

 “The SAT and ACT should no longer serve as a discriminatory barrier to attending California’s preeminent public university system,” said Katherine B. Farkas at Scheper Kim & Harris. “It is legally and morally unjustifiable to allocate admissions slots based on tests that measure socioeconomic status and race instead of college readiness. The Regents must stop using the SAT and ACT – which the Regents admit are racist - to confer advantages on the most privileged applicants.”

 The plaintiffs in Kawika Smith v. Regents of the University of California are five individual students and six organizations: College Access Plan, Little Manila Rising, Dolores Huerta Foundation, College Seekers, Chinese for Affirmative Action, and Community Coalition. They are represented by Public Counsel, Scheper Kim & Harris, Equal Justice Society, Miller Advocacy Group, and Brown Goldstein & Levy. Plaintiff Compton Unified School District, in the consolidated case Compton Unified School District v. Regents of the University of California, is represented by Olivarez Madruga Lemieux O’Neill.


Read the Preliminary Injunction Motion here.

Read the student declarations here.

Read education experts' declarations here.  

Read the UC faculty declaration here.