Why Do SAT Scores Differ According to Race?

Every year, millions of students in the United States take the SAT as they get ready for college admissions. Theoretically, the SAT is supposed to evaluate each student’s knowledge and help colleges decide if they want to admit them or not. Unfortunately, research on the Class of 2020 data has suggested that the SAT might unintentionally discriminate against certain racial groups.

Over the years, black and Latino students have consistently scored lower on the SATs than their white and Asian counterparts. This can make it harder for them to attend their chosen college, limiting their career options and placing them at a disadvantage before they even graduate high school. Research has shown that the students themselves aren’t to blame–rather, it’s a culture of discrimination that makes it harder for them to get ahead.

What Causes the Discrepancy in SAT Scores?

Across the United States, black and Latino families make up a disproportionate amount of low-income families. As a result, they might not be able to afford the best education like their high-income counterparts. High-income families in the U.S. are disproportionately white, giving white students an advantage in the college playing field. High-income families can afford to send their students to the best school districts in the area and pay for tutors, extra lessons, SAT prep classes and everything else that their children need to be successful.

In addition to lack of education, low-income families often have to deal with other challenges that can affect their children’s schooling. They might live in poverty or crime-ridden areas, making it difficult for their children to focus on their education. Their children might have to switch schools multiple times in a single year or live in different locations without knowing where their next meal is coming from. When their life is constantly marred by hardships, they don’t have the time to sit down and focus on their SATs.

Many children also come from families that speak English as a second language. Since the U.S. education system predominately uses English, these children might have trouble absorbing knowledge and completing their assignments.

How Does an SAT Score Affect College Recruitment?

Many colleges use their applicants’ SAT scores to determine whether they would be the right fit for their university. If a student has a low SAT score, they could lose the opportunity to attend the college of their choice. To make matters worse, the low score might not have even been the student’s fault.

What Are Some Possible Solutions?

To counteract this issue, the U.S. College Board has talked about implementing an “adversity index” that would take each student’s home life into consideration as well as their SAT score. This could benefit students who might have otherwise done well on the SAT if they didn’t live in poverty. In practice, the adversity index provides universities with information about the applicant’s school and financial situation. The university can decide whether or not they want to take this information into consideration.

Supporters of the adversity index say that it will help disadvantaged students attend college. Others say that the index doesn’t go far enough. For example, a student could live in a privileged, high-income area but still score low on the SAT due to a disability or issues in their personal life.

Surprisingly, a high SAT score doesn’t guarantee admission into a student’s favorite college. In 2014, a group known as the Students for Fair Admissions filed a lawsuit against Harvard University, alleging that the school regularly denied admittance to Asian Americans even though they had the highest SAT scores. This suggests that discrimination can persist even when students are doing well–and universities have a long way to go before everyone is treated equally.