New Study Shows Racial Bias in SATs

Glen Ford, Black Agenda Report, July 6, 2010

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The latest study was conducted for the University of California system, and replicates most of the results of the 2003 study. Researchers concluded that Black students did worse than whites on easier questions with more common words because some of those words have different connotations in Black and white cultural settings. For example, simple words like “bad,” “tight” and “slick” carry different meanings in colloquial Black speech than in white usage. The SATs test the “white” meanings, putting Blacks at a disadvantage for the easy questions. In the smaller number of hard questions involving words that are not normally used in everyday, household speech, Blacks score higher than whites, because these learned words don’t have multiple or culture-based meanings. Apparently, Blacks did better at learning the uncommon vocabulary than whites. However, whites do so much better than Blacks on the easier questions, white overall SAT scores are much higher.

The research measured the performance of Black and white students who were matched “by proficiency”–that is, based on their educational backgrounds and skills, the Blacks and whites should do about the same on the SATs. There was no indication that the test was biased against Latinos. But one of the researchers for the first, 2003 study found that some of the Black students would have scored about 100 points higher on the SAT if there had been more hard questions on the test.

Critics of the SAT and other “high stakes” tests have called the new research a “bombshell” that should move more institutions to drop SATs entirely. {snip} The Board withheld data from the racial bias researchers for two years, and continues to claim the studies produced “inconsistent findings.” The Board blames racial discrepancies in testing on “educational inequities” in the United States, but claims the tests are fair.

The truth is, there is both vast “educational inequity” in the U.S. and built-in cultural/racial biases in the tests, themselves. High stakes testing is embedded in the institutionally racist walls that were massively erected in the wake of nominal integration of education, in order to preserve white privilege. {snip}

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