SAT Race Gap Widens

Hand filling out a multiple choice test
Creative commons image via Resized.

A new analysis of over 1.1 million applicants to the University of California system demonstrates that race matters when it comes to the SAT. The study used data from California residents who applied to UC schools between 1994 and 2011 to isolate factors known to contribute to SAT scores such as race, parental education, and socioeconomic status. Strikingly, race was a better predictor than either socioeconomic status or parental education levels, and the three factors together predicted a large and growing discrepancy of scores, accounting for 25% of the variation between otherwise similar candidates in 1994 and 35% in 2011.

Saul Geiser, the study’s author, cautions that despite the large sample size, the study focused on California, and more research will be needed to determine whether results apply nationally. He also acknowledges that interpretation of the study may be shaded by preexisting political leanings: “To both critics and supporters of affirmative action alike, the University of California’s experience is a morality tale. For critics of affirmative action, it demonstrates what can be done . . . to expand minority enrollment by race-neutral means. For supporters, it illustrates not only the dire consequences of eliminating affirmative action but also the impossibility for American colleges and universities to keep pace with the growing diversity of the nation without taking account of race.” (Geiser, 2015, p. 2)

To read more, see “SAT’s Racial Impact” in Inside Higher Ed or read the full study, “The Growing Correlation Between Race and SAT Scores: New Findings from California.”