I recently received a request from Jennifer Karan, Executive Director of the SAT Program at the College Board, who asked me to post an article she wrote refuting recent charges that the SAT is biased and unfair. In short, Jennifer’s response is that the questions themselves are not biased, and that SAT merely reflects unfairness that is already present in our educational system. I basically agree, so I agreed to post her article here in its entirety. I’ll post a more detailed response to this issue soon. -Jeff Bergman
A Dangerous Assumption
By: Jennifer Karan, Executive Director of SAT Program at the College Board
A professor of sociology at Occidental University recently blogged about the correlation between income and SAT scores. Citing the College Board’s 2009 report on College Bound Seniors, the professor speculates that (a) the students from wealthier families tend to have access to “better teachers, more resource-rich educational environments, more educated parents who can help them with school and, sometimes, expensive SAT tutoring” and (b) that the test may be biased towards wealthier students.
Students from higher income and parental education backgrounds tend to complete core coursework and both report and achieve “A”-level GPAs in greater number. As a result, they perform better on the SAT. For example, students in the class of 2011 who completed a core curriculum achieved an average of 48 points better per section. However, the relationship between test scores and factors such as educational background, gender, parental education, and household income are complex and interdependent. Non-school demographic and socioeconomic factors do not directly affect test performance, but they are associated with educational experiences as reflected on tests such as the SAT and other measures such as high school graduation rates. Such a simple conclusion does not accurately represent the intricate network of variables that inform such a correlation.
The second speculation, that the test may be biased, is a popular myth unsupported by reputable research. The SAT is the most thoroughly researched college entrance exam in the world and is consistently shown to be a fair and valid predictor of first-year college success regardless of gender, race or socio-economic status. SAT questions are prescreened on students from all 50 states to ensure fairness and each SAT question is thoroughly pretested and analyzed to ensure all students respond to the question in a similar manner. If a question does not clear educator reviews, or performs differently across subgroups, it is removed before it can appear on the official test. The exam is constantly evolving and, as stated in the NACAC’s Report of the Commission on the Use of Standardized Tests in Undergraduate Admission “A substantial body of literature indicates that test bias has been largely mitigated in today’s admissions tests due to extensive research and development of question items.”
The unfortunate reality is that vast inequities exist in the quality of education across the United States, and these inequities are reflected in reliable educational measures such as SAT performance.