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Socio-Economic and Racial Disparities Reflected in SAT Scores

It it no surprise whatsoever that black and brown students score lower on standardized tests than their white and yellow peers. This fact is one more indicator of the “achievement gap” between minority students and white students in the United States. (For more on this, see the article from Inside Higher Ed).

Some analysts are more careful to draw socioeconomic distinctions, rather than racial ones. The fact is that poorer students generally have fewer educational opportunities, inadequate schools, and are held to lower standards than kids in wealthier areas–where parents raise tens of thousands of dollars each year in silent auctions and other fundraisers–all to ensure that their kids continue to get the best of the best.

The College Board has announced that more young people–including ones from lower socioeconomic backgrounds–are taking the SAT test than ever before. Even so, the average score for each component of the test has remained about the same: critical reading (502), mathematics (515) and writing (494).

This steady average masks some uncomfortable realities. First, even though more poor students are taking the tests (which might bring scores lower, on average), more rich students are also taking the tests–sometimes 2 or 3 times. So just because the average is steady does not mean that scores among students at the lower rungs of the socioeconomic ladder or performing better.

Further, African American, Native American, and Latino students consistently score well below Anglo and Asian American students. Here are the averages for those groups:

African Americans: Critical reading: 430; Math: 426; Writing: 424

Hispanics: Critical reading: 455; Math: 460; Writing: 447

Native Americans: Critical reading: 485; Math: 491; Writing: 470

Note that scores for each of these groups went DOWN this past year over the previous year, while average scores for Anglos and Asian student went UP.

No wonder more and more colleges are making standardized tests optional in the admissions process, or are finding some other ways to evaluate the potential of minority students. There is no getting around the fact that students from poorer communities score worse on these tests than wealthy students. So how can colleges correct for these tests–legally–and recruit and retain more qualified minorities onto their campuses?


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Mark Montgomery
College Admission Counselor

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