How to Interpret Latest Study: Admissions Tests Discriminate against Low-Income and Minority Student
Updated: Jun 8
Last week, a new study found that “the SAT and ACT tests discriminate against low-income, minority and female students in college admissions at selective colleges.”
The main findings of the study were three-fold:
1. Students with family income of $100,000 or more are more than twice as likely as students with family income under $50,000 to have combined SAT test scores of 1400 to 1600.
Takeaway: It’s no secret that financial resources allow for better and more thorough test preparation, especially noticeable on standardized tests such as the SAT and ACT. In strict correlation, as a family’s income decreases, so too do the expected test scores primarily due to this explanation. On average, students who take the SAT a second time can expect to see a 100+ score increase. This effect diminishes on repeated tries, but increases are still measurable.
2. White students are three times more likely than Black or African-American students and twice as likely as Hispanic or Latino students to have combined SAT test scores of 1400 to 1600
Takeaway: Socioeconomic factors continue to be at play here, and we see a looser correlation to family income affecting test scores, this time categorized by ethnicity. Meanwhile, Asian students score consistently higher than the average population, spiking near the top end of scores. This also explains why a high SAT or ACT score is
not much of a differentiating factor for Asian college applicants. There are simply too many Asian students with high test scores. Unique factors must come from elsewhere. However, the double-edged sword here is that Asian students are also, at the same time, held to a higher standard of SAT and ACT scores.
3. Male students are 42% more likely to have combined SAT test scores in the 1400 to 1600 range than female students, possibly due to differences in performance on math exams.
Takeaway: While the distributions look similar, there is a marked difference in scores in the 1400-1600 range between male and female students. The study notes that the differences typically come from stronger math section scores reported by male students. The main takeaway here is for female students to focus on raising their math scores if they wish to stand out from the crowd a bit more.
The overall conclusion should be understanding that these statistics show us what colleges are comparing students against. For example, if you are an Asian male student with a high family income, you are expected to have a high SAT score and strong math scores. This may not come as a surprise, but this is a reminder that this expectation is rooted in the numbers. If you wish to compete with these most competitive numbers, you will need to climb the mountain. However, if test scores are not your strong suit despite a high family income, seek ways to stand out that aren’t strictly academic. It will be a bit more difficult, but with creativity and effort, your activities and participation in non-academic events will pay off, just as they have for many of my students who wished to go against the grain. Choose your path wisely!