Posted on May 27, 2020

Scrapping the SAT Won’t Help Black and Latino Students

Jason L. Riley, Wall Street Journal, May 26, 2020

Opponents of standardized testing have a favorite go-to sample question from a SAT exam given in the 1980s.


a) envoy:embassy

b) martyr:massacre

c) oarsman:regatta

d) horse:stable

The question is held up as an example of cultural bias in admissions testing, evidence that the SAT discriminates against racial and ethnic minorities and low-income applicants. {snip}

It was based on such concerns that the University of California Board of Regents decided last week, at the urging of UC President Janet Napolitano, to stop using the SAT and ACT college admission exams. UC hasn’t led the effort to end the use of such tests, but given the system’s size and prestige, the decision is likely to give opponents of the SAT a strong boost. That’s unfortunate, because low-income minorities have more to lose than gain from the end of standardized testing.

It’s true that blacks and Hispanics on average score below whites and Asians on the SAT, but to claim the test is discriminatory is to ignore a host of other factors that are far more likely culprits. We know that study habits, as well as time spent reading books versus watching television, vary significantly among different racial and ethnic groups. We also know that black and Hispanic youths are far more likely to attend chronically failing elementary and secondary schools. Might any of this offer a more plausible explanation for the racial and ethnic disparities in SAT scores?


Given these vast differences in upbringings, habits, attitudes and priorities across various groups, why would we expect to see anything approaching racial or ethnic parity in SAT scores? {snip}

The SAT is designed to do one thing—assess high school students for college readiness—and there is wide agreement that it does this fairly well, regardless of the test-taker’s race. If the test was in fact biased against blacks or any other demographic group, it wouldn’t predict freshman outcomes—grades, completion rates, etc.—as consistently as studies going back decades have shown it does.


We’d all like to see low-income minorities reach academic parity with whites and Asians, but lagging groups will have to get there from where they currently are, and getting rid of the SAT will only obscure where they are, not change the discomfiting reality.