"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

MIT Returns to Using SAT to Keep Out the Riffraff

During the pandemic, many colleges and universities decided to drop the most infamous discriminatory tools of the college admissions trade: the SAT and ACT. Now that wishful thinking regarding Covid has entirely displaced rational analysis in our nation's policymaking centers, it's not surprising to see the first of America's most privileged universities for the most privileged move backward to once again adopting a screening tool born in an era, unlike now, when colleges did not feel compelled to hire PR firms to disguise their racism and bigotry.

So MIT says forget the research showing how the SAT, ACT, GRE, or any other standardized test cannot account for stereotype threat or the benefits accrued by test-takers family wealth and income. 

Below is a clip from a brief paper by Tom Rudd in 2011, and below that are the charts which demonstrate clearly the points about family income and SAT scores. So congratulations MIT: you have shown us your reestablished priorities to protect your institution's white wealthy elitism. One would think such rarefied air would reek less of untreated sewage. 

A close look at the distribution of average SAT scores by race and family income suggests that what the SAT does a very good job of measuring is “access to opportunity.” The correlation between SAT scores and reported family income is very high. In 2009, the highest average score on the SAT was posted by students who reported their family income as greater than $200,000 annually.  For these students, high access to opportunity, generally evidenced by high SAT scores, is cumulative. Access to high performing primary and secondary schools leads to high SAT scores that lead to heightened opportunity to attend selective colleges and universities which leads to greater opportunity to choose a life that “one has reason to value.” Despite historic and impassioned prognostications about the public mission of the academy to energize fundamental democratic values including racial and ethnic diversity, it appears that most highly selective colleges and universities use the SAT (or the ACT) as a key component of their admissions strategy.

By Catherine Rampell, New York Times Economic Blog 2009:

SAT reading scores by incomeSource: College Board

SAT math scores by incomeSource: College Board
SAT writing scores by incomeSource: College Board

Here are all three test sections next to each other (zoomed in on the vertical axis, so you can see the variation among income groups a little more clearly):

SAT scores by income classSource: College Board

A few observations:

  • There’s a very strong positive correlation between income and test scores. (For the math geeks out there, the R2 for each test average/income range chart is about 0.95.) 
  • On every test section, moving up an income category was associated with an average score boost of over 12 points.
  • Moving from the second-highest income group and the highest income group seemed to show the biggest score boost. However, keep in mind the top income category is uncapped, so it includes a much broader spectrum of families by wealth.

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