Today is the first day of school at the college where I teach, so I thought it would be a nice time to re-post this oldie-but-goodie on the relationship between income and SAT scores.  I’m sure all of our students are brilliant, of course, but whether the SAT measures intelligence fairly is up for debate.

The College Board is an education association that, among other things, administers the SAT college entrance examination.  A report on the scores from 2009, reviewed by the New York Times, included a break down of scores by the household income of the student. Scores correlate strongly and positively with income:

I can think of two explanations for the correlation.

First, it is certainly true that children with more economic resources, on average, end up better prepared for standardized tests.  They tend to have better teachers, more resource-rich educational environments, more educated parents who can help them with school and, sometimes, expensive SAT tutoring.

Second, the test itself may be biased towards wealthier students.  These tests tend to be written and evaluated by privileged individuals who may inadvertently include class-based knowledge, not just knowledge, in the exam (asking questions, for example, that rely on background information about golf instead of basketball).

In any case, this correlation should give us pause; it calls into question, quite profoundly, the extent to which the SAT is functioning as a fair measure.  Perhaps it measures preparedness for college, but whether it measures potential is up for debate.

Lisa Wade is a professor at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. Find her on TwitterFacebook, and Instagram.
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