The Truth About Race and the SATs

The relationship between intelligence and race has long been a matter of debate and controversy. There is a connection between race and SAT scores but there is also, of course, a strong relationship between SAT scores and wealth, SAT scores and family education, and SAT scores and school quality.

But researchers have recently discovered something new, at least with regard to the SAT scores of applicants to the University of California system. According to an article at Inside Higher Ed

A… long-term analysis of SAT scores has found that… race and ethnicity have become stronger predictors of SAT scores than family income and parental education levels.

Further, the study has found that all three factors — race/ethnicity, family income and parental education levels — now predict one-third of the variance in SAT scores among otherwise similar students, up from a quarter in 1994. In other words, a larger share of SAT variance today than in 1994 may be predicted based on where and to whom a child is born.

Researchers point out that it’s unclear how much of this is true of the country at large. The implications of this are unclear. This does “suggest,” as article puts it, that it may not be possible, at least not anytime soon, to get to a place where race and ethnicity don’t impact SAT scores.

Pundits may well interpret this in all sorts of interesting ways, but one of the puzzling, and perhaps telling, things about his new discovery, is that that race/ethnicity, family income and parental education levels don’t influence SAT the same ways every year.

The share of score variance attributable to socioeconomic factors fell from 25 percent in 1994 to 21 percent in 1998. But in the years that followed it went back up to 35 percent.

Why does race matter more over time? One suggestion the authors have is that school and neighborhood composition may be playing a huge influence here. Both of these things are becoming more segregated, which could matter a lot for SAT scores.

Check out the study here.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer