SAT Racial Bias Proves Standardized Tests Are Geared Toward White Students

As a high school junior, I am one of more than 2 million students who took the SAT this past year. The SAT is the most common standardized test for college admission in the U.S., followed by the ACT. Around 90% of colleges mandate submission of SAT or ACT scores. The three hour and forty-five minute long test is composed of ten different sections: -- one essay, three critical reading, writing, math, and all of them multiple choice. While seemingly omnipresent in the application process, the SAT is not a fair representation of student's intelligence, and is in fact racially biased.

The SAT has frequently been criticized for the cultural advantage it provides for wealthy whites. The test has been blamed for widening the achievement gap between whites and minorities. While the math section is objective, the critical reading section and writing section describe topics associated mostly with the white demographic. Often the passages are about subjects that white, upper class students are more exposed to. The verbal section favors white students by using language with which they are more familiar than non-white students.

For 23 years, Roy Freedle, a psychologist and professional who works with ETS (the nonprofit “Educational Testing Service” that develops, administers, and scores standardized tests), has been working to prove that standardized tests give whites an unfair advantage. His studies suggest that scores of minority students significantly lag behind white students of equal economic status. On average, black students score an average of one hundred points lower than white students.

Wealthier test takers also enjoy advantages in the form of test preparation. From tutors that cost up to hundreds of dollars an hour to private college counselors, students with means and access to additional help can often bring their scores up hundreds of points through gaming the system. For example, by my access to past tests, and my practice of taking five of them, I improved my scores by two hundred points -- just by seeing trends in the questions. My improvement was not a product of my intelligence, but rather a result of the number of questions I was exposed to and the coaching I received. Students who do not have this opportunity are at a severe disadvantage.

If we are really a democracy and not a plutocracy, standardized tests should not be a significant factor in the college process. In fact, an increasing number of schools, most notably the University of California schools, no longer require applicants to submit SAT scores. SAT scores are not a thorough evaluation of intelligenceSocioeconomic status, culture, primary language, and test taking experience greatly affect results. However, other means of student evaluation are also biased, such as GPA and teacher recommendations. Perhaps standardized tests should still be administered, but colleges should be wary in valuing them as a major factor in a student’s application. 

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Haleigh Collins

Writer and visual artist from NYC.

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