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It’s widely believed that racial gaps in test scores are just class gaps. And, if that’s not true, then it’s assumed that race is fading away in importance relative to class. But an important study shows that in multiracial California, race is becoming more influential in recent years.

October 2015
Saul Geiser
Center for Studies in Higher Education
University of California, Berkeley

This paper presents new and surprising findings on the relationship between race and SAT scores. The findings are based on the population of California residents who applied for admission to the University of California from 1994 through 2011, a sample of over 1.1 million students. The UC data show that socioeconomic background factors – family income, parental education, and race/ethnicity – account for a large and growing share of the variance in students’ SAT scores over the past twenty years. More than a third of the variance in SAT scores can now be predicted by factors known at students’ birth, up from a quarter of the variance in 1994. Of those factors, moreover, race has become the strongest predictor. Rather than declining in salience, race and ethnicity are now more important than either family income or parental education in accounting for test score differences. It must be cautioned that these findings are preliminary, and more research is needed to determine whether the California data reflect a broader national trend. But if these findings are representative, they have important implications for the ongoing debate over both affirmative action and standardized testing in college admissions.

… The regression results show a marked increase since 1994 in the proportion of variance in SAT scores that can be predicted from socioeconomic background factors largely determined at students’ birth. After falling slightly from 25% to 21% between 1994 and 1998, the proportion of explained variance increased each year thereafter, growing to 35% by 2011, the last year for which the author has obtained data. Remarkably, more than a third of the variance in SAT scores among UC applicants can now be predicted by family income, education, and race/ethnicity. This result contrasts sharply with that for high school GPA: Socioeconomic background factors accounted for only 7% of the variance in HSGPA in 1994 and 8% in 2011. …

Nevertheless, even without being able to observe those intermediating experiences directly, regression analysis enables one to assess the relative importance of different socioeconomic factors in predicting test performance. Figure 2 provides standardized regression coefficients, or “beta weights,” for predicting SAT scores conditional on family income, parents’ education, and race/ethnicity. The coefficients show the predictive weight of each factor after controlling for the effects of the other two, thereby providing a measure of the unique contribution of each factor to the prediction.

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In 1994, at the beginning of the period covered in this analysis, parental education was the strongest of the three socioeconomic predictors of test performance. (The standardized regression coefficient of 0.27 in that year means that, for each one standard deviation increase in parental education, SAT scores increased by 0.27 of a standard deviation, when income and underrepresented minority status were held constant.) The predictive weight for parental education has remained about the same since then. The weight for family income has shown a small but steady increase from 0.13 in 1998 to 0.18 in 2011. But the most important change has been the growing salience of race/ethnicity. By 2011, the predictive weight for underrepresented minority status, 0.29, was greater than that for either family income or parental education. When the regression results for the UC sample are pooled across applicant cohorts, race/ethnicity is the strongest predictor of SAT scores over the last four years.

A key implication of this finding is that racial and ethnic group differences in SAT scores are not simply reducible to differences in family income and parental education. At least for the UC sample, there remains a large and growing residual effect of race/ethnicity after those factors are taken into account.

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As shown in Figure 8, the test score gap in California is greatest between black and white SAT takers but has oscillated up and down and shows no consistent trend since 1998. If one were to draw inferences about racial and ethnic differences from the black-white gap alone, one might conclude that there has been little change in this respect.

But that conclusion would be wrong. For all other racial/ethnic comparisons, test score gaps between underrepresented minority and other students have been growing. The Black-Asian, Latino-White, and Latino-Asian test score gaps have increased almost every year since 1998.

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Charles Murray writes in the Wall Street Journal:

Why the SAT Isn’t a ‘Student Affluence Test’
A lot of the apparent income effect on standardized tests is owed to parental IQ—a fact that needs addressing.

March 24, 2015 7:11 p.m. ET

… The results are always the same: The richer the parents, the higher the children’s SAT scores. This has led some to view the SAT as merely another weapon in the inequality wars, and to suggest that SAT should actually stand for “Student Affluence Test.”

It’s a bum rap. All high-quality academic tests look as if they’re affluence tests. It’s inevitable. Parental IQ is correlated with children’s IQ everywhere. In all advanced societies, income is correlated with IQ. Scores on academic achievement tests are always correlated with the test-takers’ IQ. Those three correlations guarantee that every standardized academic-achievement test shows higher average test scores as parental income increases.

But those correlations also mean that a lot of the apparent income effect is actually owed to parental IQ. The SAT doesn’t have IQ information on the parents. But the widely used National Longitudinal Survey of Youth contains thousands of cases with data on family income, the mother’s IQ, and her children’s performance on the math and reading tests of the Peabody Individual Achievement Test battery, which test the same skills as the math and reading tests of the SAT.

For the SAT, shifting to more than $200,000 of family income from less than $20,000 moved the average score on the combined math and reading tests to the 74th percentile from the 31st—a jump of 43 percentiles. The same income shift moved the average PIAT score to the 82nd percentile from the 30th—a jump of 52 percentiles.

Now let’s look at the income effect in the PIAT when the mother’s IQ is statistically held constant at the national average of 100. Going to a $200,000 family income from a $1,000 family income raises the score only to the 76th percentile from the 50th—an increase of 26 percentiles. More important, almost all of the effect occurs for people making less than $125,000. Going to $200,000 from $125,000 moves the PIAT score only to the 76th percentile from the 73rd—a trivial change. Beyond $200,000, PIAT scores go down as income increases.

In assessing the meaning of this, it is important to be realistic about the financial position of families making $125,000 who are also raising children. They were in the top quartile of income distribution in 2013, but they probably live in an unremarkable home in a middle-class neighborhood and send their children to public schools. And yet, given mothers with equal IQs, the child whose parents make $125,000 has only a trivial disadvantage, if any, when competing with children from families who are far more wealthy.

Why should almost all of the income effect be concentrated in the first hundred thousand dollars or so? The money itself may help, but another plausible explanation is that the parents making, say, $60,000 are likely to be regularly employed, with all the things that regular employment says about a family. The parents are likely to be conveying advantages other than IQ such as self-discipline, determination and resilience—“grit,” as this cluster of hard-to-measure qualities is starting to be called in the technical literature.

Families with an income of, say, $15,000 are much more likely to be irregularly employed or subsisting on welfare, with negative implications for that same bundle of attributes. Somewhere near $100,000 the marginal increments in grit associated with greater income taper off, and further increases in income make little difference.

Let’s throw parental education into the analysis so that we can examine the classic indictment of the SAT: the advantage a child of a well-educated and wealthy family (Sebastian, I will call him) has over the child of a modestly educated working-class family (Jane). Sebastian’s parents are part of the fabled 1%, with $400,000 in income, and his mother has a college degree. But her IQ is only average. Jane’s family has an income of just $40,000 and mom has only a high-school diploma. But mom’s IQ is 135, putting her in the top 1% of the IQ distribution.

Which child is likely to test higher? Sebastian is predicted to be at the 68th percentile on the PIAT. Jane is predicted to be at the 78th percentile. If you want high test scores, “choose” a smart but poor mother over a rich but dumb one—or over a rich and merely ungifted one.

One way of analyzing the effect of “privilege” — wealth and parental investment — on test scores and outcomes as adults would be to check how much an only child is advantaged relative to a child in a larger family.

For example, consider my wife v. myself. Harvard social scientist Robert D. Putnam’s new book Our Kids uses a super-simplified definition of class based solely on parents’ educational levels. By Putnam’s standards, my wife, whose mother and father both had masters degrees, would have grown up upper middle class. In contrast, my father had a junior college 2-year diploma and my mother had only a high school diploma, so I’d be lower middle class, I guess.

On the other hand, I was an only child, while my wife has three siblings. So, growing up, I never felt terribly strapped for money nor, especially, for parental time and energy, while my wife’s upbringing was more exigent.

Although you don’t hear about it much now that small families are the norm, back in my Baby Boom childhood, the privileged nature of being an only child — only children were widely said to be spoiled — was a frequent subject of conversation. This was especially true since I went to Catholic schools for 12 years, where very large families were common. For example, one friend, the class clown and best singer (his rendition of “MacNamara’s Band” in 4th grade remains a vivid memory), had eight siblings in his Irish family.

How privileged was I by being one of a family of three rather than one of a family of eleven?

My friend from the huge family has had a long, successful career as a TV sportscaster, along with some TV and movie credits as a comic actor. If you live in L.A., you’ve seen him on TV dozens of times over the last 30 years. So, growing up in a huge family didn’t ruin his life.On the other hand, if he’d been an only child with a real stage mother for a mom, I could imagine somebody with that much presence (his affect is reminiscent of that of the late Philip Seymour Hoffman or of a straight Nathan Lane) becoming a semi-famous character actor with maybe one or two Best Supporting Actor nominations.

Back during my more egalitarian childhood, people didn’t think that much about tutoring and Tiger Mothering, but, to some extent it works.

For example, I have had a pleasant life, but looking back I can see wasted opportunities. After my freshman year at Rice I came home and got a summer job at Burger King. After my sophomore year, I repaired dental equipment. Finally, after my junior year I worked as the assistant to the Chief Financial Officer of a big weedwacker manufacturing company. But what did the Burger King and repair jobs do for me other than teach me not to be a fry cook or repairman? These days I would have plotted to get internships in Silicon Valley or D.C. or Wall Street and had my parents pay my rent.

So, yes, I do think I was privileged to have the extra resources I was afforded by being an only child, even if I didn’t exploit my privileges as cunningly as I could have.

Quantifying how big a privilege that was seems challenging but doable. In fact, I’m sure somebody has done it already, and I invite commenters to link to studies.

It seems to me that measuring the effects of being an only child ought to be the first thing we do when we decide to theorize about Privilege.

By the way, however, there are other factors that may matter more in determining how Privileged you are. For example, my parents happened to turn out to be winners in the Great American Random Lottery of choosing a neighborhood to buy a home in during the 1950s — the demographics of their neighborhood have barely changed since the 1950s.

In contrast, my in-laws had the bad luck to draw what nightmarishly turned out to be one of the shortest straws in America: the Austin neighborhood on the West Side of Chicago. It was almost all white until Martin Luther King came to Chicago in 1966 to demand integration. Being good liberals, my in-laws joined a pro-integration group of neighbors who all swore to not engage in white flight. But after three years and three felonies against their small children, my in-laws were pretty much financially wiped out by trying to make integration work in Austin. And thus after they finally sold out at a massive loss, they wound up living in a farmhouse without running water for the next two years.

Bizarrely, while the once-pleasant street where my wife grew up in Austin looks nowadays like a post-apocalyptic wasteland, a couple of miles to the west is Superior Street in Oak Park, IL where my father grew up in the 1920s. It looks like an outdoor Frank Lloyd Wright museum today. The Wright district was saved by Oak Park’s secret, illegal, and quite effective “black-a-block” racial quota system imposed on realtors to keep Oak Park mostly white (and, these days, heavily gay).

So a not insignificant fraction of White Privilege in 2015 actually consists of whether or not the Eye of Sauron turned upon your parents’ neighborhood or not.

• Category: Economics, Ideology • Tags: Charles Murray, College Admission, IQ, SAT 
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The traditional concept of college admissions was that the goal was to predict applicants’ future achievement (which could be measured in terms of first year in college grades or money donated 50 years later or whatever). The most obvious way to predict future achievement was past achievement: e.g., high school grades. Presumably, past achievement had two main components: hard work and aptitude.
But there were some obvious problems with relying solely on high school grades, such as different levels  of grade inflation at high schools. If you were getting most of your applicants from St. Paul’s and Dalton, well, you could keep in mind the differences, augmented with letters of recommendation from headmasters you had known for years. 
But once the Ivy Leagues started trying to find the most promising non-upper class kids from the rest of the country, they needed something more objective about individuals than just grades. Another issue is that high school grades have certain inherent shortcomings. The future Nobelist in physics might not care about his social studies class and thus wind up with a lower overall GPA than the well-adjusted grind. Plus, grades have a ceiling. Even an A+ in physics doesn’t really tell you that much. Moreover, lots of future successes are alienated in high school. Some people who get all As in high school might not have the upside to continue to do so in college. Incentives toward grade inflation at the high school are built in. And so forth … Top colleges kept asking for recommendation letters, but their value (and, thus, importance) dropped as they increasingly came in from random teachers in random places like Burbank, CA.
So, for various reasons like this, the Scholastic Aptitude Test was created and spread. The idea was to have an objective, national test of academic intelligence. Overall, the SAT would appear to have been a huge success. American colleges are the most fashionable and richest in the world today. 
However, there have long been complaints about the SAT. The most fashionable involved The Gap. Whites averaged higher scores than blacks. This posed a major PR problem for the academic establishment. The SAT (and ACT) is essential for their continued thriving, but saying that blacks are less intelligent than whites on average is The Worst Thing in the Whole World. But that’s what the SAT says. And the SAT is the cornerstone of academic elitism, which has made American academia globally the envy of the academic world.
Thus, over the last half century or so, there have been anguished discussions between the front men for the academic world and the psychometricians at ETS about how to Close the Gap, without throwing the baby of predictive power out with the bathwater.

One change was purely PR: the SAT doesn’t stand for Scholastic Aptitude Test anymore. It just stands for SAT these days. Under the hood, there have been a host of tweaks intended to narrow the gap without trashing the predictive powers of the SAT too much.

For example, the upper range of the Verbal (now Critical Reading) test has been capped. Before 1995, it was very, very hard to get an 800 on the Verbal test. I came fairly close the first time I took the test in 1975, so I gave it another try, got a little closer, but gave up and didn’t take it a third time because the two scores seemed quite accurate: I’m very good at verbal logic, and have a certain gift for insights that other people wouldn’t come up with, but I’m not a meticulous thinker. I make lots of mistakes. I’m more of a let’s run it up the flagpole and see if anybody salutes thinker. In contrast, say, Charles Murray’s brain works like a BMW V-12: powerful and precise. Mine’s a jalopy that might surprise you and win the race or might break down on the starting line and go nowhere. So, there didn’t seem like much point in me doing a lot of test prep to try to score 800 on the verbal — I’d still make a mistake or two or they throw a really hard question at me.

But now, an 800 is well within reach of a lot of well-drilled students.

So, before scores were inflated in 1995, the SAT-V was an excellent test of high end verbal brainpower. In contrast, the SAT-M was widely recognized to need more headroom. It wasn’t uncommon at Rice in the 1970s to hear good but not great Sci-Eng majors say, “Well, sure, I got an 800, but I’m not a real 800 like Joe is.”

An obvious reform would have been to make scoring of SAT-M more like scoring of SAT-V. Instead, College Board – ETS did the opposite in 1995. One reason was that all that headroom on the Verbal modestly increased The Gap. The V test was made much easier to score 800 upon in 1995. A 730 old style became an 800 new style.

Lots of other tweaks were made, but as far as we can tell, anything that raises black average scores just encourages harder scraping of the bottom of the barrel by society, so the white-black The Gap remains remarkably stable over the generations. For example, The Gap on SAT-Critical Reading dropped about a half decade ago, perhaps because of the changes on the test, such as deep-sixing analogies. But that apparently just encouraged the College Board to troll for more black test-takers with free tests, so The Gap is now even bigger. (I may be overinterpreting a few squiggles on the trend graph.)
But white parents still tend to assume that SAT stands for Scholastic Aptitude Test. It’s not an achievement test in their heads. The College Board says there is no point in studying extra hard for the SAT, and why would a prestigious not-for-profit institution spin the truth? If you can’t trust the College Board, who can you trust? And signing your child up for intensive test prepping would be unfair to poor blacks who can’t afford all that tutoring and drilling. Plus, prepping for years would be a lot of work for little Taylor, so just let him have his fun.
Meanwhile, lots of people from Fujian are showing up in America whose merchant ancestors ascended to mandarin status by spending their mercantile profits at Confucian literature cram schools for their sons. The assumptions about the SAT flitting around in white people’s heads would never occur to them. “Test prep is unfair to poor blacks? Huh? You crack me up! I like you! You are very funny!”
Not surprisingly, we see vast amounts of white upper middle class rage directed at Amy Chua. 
Now, is devoting hundreds of hours to prepping for the SAT a Good Thing or a Bad Thing? Well, let me try to reframe that question more productively and think about SAT test prep’s opportunity cost.
It could be that SAT test prep has long term benefits other than getting into a fancier college. Could be … I dunno. I haven’t seen any evidence one way or another. But, it seems more like a zero sum game. SAT test prep seems kind of a sterile form of studying compared to studying an actual subject like Physics or French or Music Theory or World History or Microeconomics.

The return on investment for the colossal number of hours devoted in recent decades to SAT cram schooling is modest. The test is designed t
o be hard to prep for, so it’s taken gigantic efforts for gains measured in fractions of a standard deviation. 

It seems to me that it would be better for everybody if more test prepping energy was invested instead into positive sum games, such as studying for achievement tests rather than for aptitude tests. Fortunately, we currently have a quite good set of national achievement tests: the College Board’s Advanced Placement tests. They are not subject to the incentives for high schools to inflate their grades: the AP tests provide objective national grades that do a good job of predicting what the high school student would score on a 101-102 level course as a freshman in college.

In contrast, AP tests are intended to be ones you can study for, so the ROI on test prep effort tends to be quite a bit higher than on the SAT. Far more students are passing AP tests than a decade ago, and that’s a good thing. Why have young people waste their time studying for something that’s built to be hard to study for when they can instead study subjects that are intrinsically worth studying?

Unfortunately, the current college admissions system gives little weight to AP test scores. Instead, perversely, it gives too much weight to taking AP classes in high school, even if you then do bad on the AP test. The University of California, for example, in calculating high school GPA adds a full point to classes designated Advanced Placement. Thus the average high school GPA of UC Berkeley freshmen is a wacky 4.39. An internal study by UC showed that cutting the bonus for an AP course down to 0.5 would better predict freshmen grades. I don’t believe the UC system counts AP test scores  in the admission’s process, or doesn’t count them much.

As Mitch has pointed out, this system is doubly rigged in favor of the more goody-two-shoes high school students. Typically, you need high grades in earlier classes to get into high school AP classes, where you are then given a full extra point for your GPA — even if your AP score shows you didn’t actually learn much.

So, the ideal system would be for college admissions to be retooled from mostly a two legged stool of grades and SAT scores to a three legged stool of grades, AP Test scores, and SAT scores. The SAT could then be redesigned to be more purely an aptitude test that would be less easy to game. Moreover, test takers would have less incentive to devote hundreds of hours to gaming the SAT because they were being encouraged to spend hundreds of hours mastering AP Chemistry or AP European History. 
The AP tests should be reformed to make them better for college admissions. They are currently scored on a 1 to 5 scale with a 5 equating to an A in the average college’s freshman year introductory course in that subject, a 4 equal to a B, and so forth. A weird aspect of this is that all 5s are not created equal. For example, to get a 5 on the AP Chemistry test, you have to get a little over 60% right. So, people getting 98% right don’t get a higher score than people getting 68% right. Test scoring should be kept the same at the lower levels — a 3 would still be a C — but the maximum score extended from 5 out to 7, which would be like an A at Caltech. Meanwhile, the GPA boost from taking an AP course would be eliminated, at least before senior year.

The initial winners from this changeover would, of course, tend to be Asians, who currently take a lot of AP tests. But good for them. Whites in heavily Asian areas, who have already started to adapt to the Asian challenge, would do okay. Whites in flyover regions would be challenged to get on the ball with AP. My guess is that it would be good for them and that they would eventually respond well to the challenge.

Overall, my plan looks like it would be better overall for society. There’s a huge amount of energy out there looking to get an advantage in the college admissions process, so why not direct it in some positive sum direction?

Yes, sure, obviously it’s a win-win, but, does it solve America’s most overwhelming problem: Closing The Gap? Will blacks come closer to whites in scores under my system?

I dunno. I haven’t thought about it. In fact, not worrying about Closing The Gap has allowed me to put forward a novel reform suggestion that might be better overall, which is not something you see too often these days.

In America today, 98% of the thinking devoted to college admissions goes to figuring out how your own kid can claw his way to the top, and the other 2% goes to airy handwaving theorizing about Closing The Gap. That leaves 0% devoted to thinking about improving the system overall.

Now, if I were truly, fanatically public-spirited, I would devote a lot of energy to dreaming up some bogus but persuasive-sounding theory about how my reform would Close The Gap, which would make it a lot more likely to be adapted. But, I’m not saintly enough to make up an elaborate lie.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
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Respected commenter Mitch explains what is going on with rising Asian SAT scores:

It’s a mix of things. 

First, the 2005 changes made the math subject material easier, but an actual high score became harder because there were fewer hard problems and the impact of “unforced errors” became higher. Kids who were bright but careless could get a high score because the occasional unforced error was wiped out and more with their performance on the high difficulty questions. That last sentence describes whites more than Asians.  

So since 2005, the ability to nail every question and not make unforced errors–something that drill does, indeed, help–has been rewarded, whereas the number of creatively difficult problems is 0 or 1 per test. This hurts white students, on average, more than Asian students just by personality trait, and then the Asian tendency to drill for this test gives even more of an advantage.  

The reading test has been made unequivocally easier. I’m not sure what you mean about some reading questions being moved to the writing section. This is not true. The writing test is a near-exact replica of the old English Composition Achievement test, or the English Writing Subject test. There were no changes to it at all from a content perspective–they just changed the type of essay prompt and reduced the number of questions. 

Certainly, the easier reading test makes it easier for Asians to get high scores. The writing test rewards attention to detail above all 

So the test changes play a part, both in how they reward the traits more likely to be in asians over whites, and then in the Asian prep ritual–which really has to be seen to be believed. I teach in these schools, and the kids are in prep taking tests for 2 years. Even the ones who aren’t getting super high scores are getting better scores, and that’s bumping the average up. 

Then there’s the fact that Koreans, Chinese, and Indians are immigrating here in huge numbers, which is presumably offsetting the once larger percentage of Filipinos and Tongans.  

I’m assuming you were only looking at US students, right? [I don't know -- it's not obvious from the College Board documents.] Koreans in Korea are taking the test as well, and there they study 40-60 hours a week, instead of school. The prep schools there buy copies of the most recent tests from students and use the tests to prep their students (something that’s frowned upon here, although not technically illegal). The kids learn how to write essays by rote, and have whole essays memorized (use this essay for “change”, this one for “education”, and so on).

There’s a general lesson here. Our society is constantly changing and bending procedures in hopes of Closing the Gap between the more feckless and the more feckful racial groups. Yet, perhaps unsurprisingly, the more feckful tend to better exploit these changes for their own benefit. 
For example, the changes in federal regulator attitudes toward zero-down and low-doc mortgages that George W. Bush announced in 2002 in the name of fighting racist redlining at his White House Conference on Increasing Minority Homeownership  poured hundreds of millions of dollars into Angelo Mozilo’s net worth, most of which the SEC allowed him to keep even after fining him. But the net worth of the median Hispanic and black is now lower after mortgage follies.
The changes in the SAT in the last decade were mostly due to a single man, University of California chancellor Richard C. Atkinson. The UC system is the College Board’s biggest client, and the UC was told by California voters in 1996 that racial preferences were now a violation of the state constitution.

Atkinson held an inflated notion of his expertise in the field of psychometrics. “When students asked me about IQ testing, I frequently referred them to Stephen Jay Gould’s book The Mismeasure of Man, published in 1981; it is a remarkable piece of scholarship that documented the widespread misuse of IQ tests,” he wrote in an essay explaining part of his motivations, although he disingenuously left out all mention of the 800 pound gorilla in the room for UC, Proposition 209. The state legislature’s Latino Caucus had threatened to cut the university system’s budget unless they could figure out a way to cheat on Prop. 209 and get more Latinos admitted.

Now, Atkinson wasn’t a complete cynic. He was more of a fool. He thought he could kill a whole bunch of birds with one stone. For example, he wanted the SAT to be more of an achievement test than an aptitude test because of his quasi-Gouldian views on IQ testing:

My views are similar to those of Alfred Binet, the French psychologist who, in the early years of the last century, devised the first IQ tests.  Binet was very clear that these tests could be useful in a clinical setting, but rejected the idea that they provided a meaningful measure of mental ability that could be used to rank order individuals.  Unfortunately, his perspective was soon forgotten as the IQ testing industry burst onto the American scene. 

This is like saying:

My views are similar to those of Nicolaus Copernicus, the Polish astronomer who, in the middle of the 16th Century, devised the first heliocentric system. Copernicus was very clear that heliocentrism reduced the number of crystalline spheres and epicycles necessary, but rejected the idea that we could explain the motions of the planets without the Music of the Spheres. Unfortunately, his perspective was soon forgotten as Kepler, Newton, and Einstein burst onto the astronomical scene.

Atkinson’s goal was to make the SAT less of an aptitude test and more like the SAT II Subject Tests, which are more achievement tests. (UC long demanded applicants take both the SAT and three SAT Subject Tests, a high degree of overkill.) Since we’ve all know about how blacks and Hispanics are obviously oppressed by the white man’s IQ pseudo-test, the thinking went, this would ameliorate UC’s little problem with the Latino Caucus by Closing the Gap.
Except, it didn’t work out that way because blacks and Latinos tend to not only have less aptitude, but they tend to be lazier about achieving academically. Also, it made the new three-part SAT 3.75 hours long, which may tend to mentally exhaust blacks and Latinos. The winners from these “reforms” turned out to be Asians, who, on average, work hardest. 
Of course, the UC schools already had plenty of Asians. So, a few years ago, UC, having turned the SAT into something like the SAT Subject Tests, announced it wanted to stop requiring the SAT Subject Tests as now being redundant. This sensible reform, however, outraged the Asian-Pacific Islander caucus in the California legislature. The more tests parents have to remember to sign their kids up for and pay for tutoring in how to beat th
e tests, the better Asians do versus everybody else.
One thing to keep in mind is that elite private colleges don’t really seem to want more Asians (at least if they’re not going to pay list price. Foreign Asians, who don’t qualify for financial assistance, are increasingly fashionable with colleges.). The more Asians score high on the SAT and get inflated GPAs by taking a lot of AP courses, the more the super-prestigious private colleges, which can and do use quotas for admitting blacks and Latinos, appear to discriminate against Asians.
Why they discriminate against Asians has been speculated about, but not, so far as I know, studied in any truly illuminating fashion.

Do they not donate as much money to their alma maters? My vague impression is that Indians, with their ancient tradition of alms-giving, are pretty generous when they have a chance to get their name put on an academic building. (I recently took enthusiastic part in a three minute standing ovation for an Indian gentleman who was the chief donor for the new library at my son’s high school. It’s a really nice library and it was all paid for and build by the week before my son started school there, so it didn’t cost me a penny, so clapping my hands sore was the least I could do.) Chinese benefactors? Maybe not so much … I don’t know. This is the kind of thing that colleges have no doubt studied in intense detail, but their findings are Top Secret.

Or maybe too many Asians is considered uncool by high school students. For example, UC Irvine has long been heavily Asian, but it never seems to climb in coolness with kids. 

Or maybe the elite colleges just don’t believe the high SAT scores being recently recorded by Asians. Who knows? Obviously, elite private colleges know what their motivations are for requiring higher paper credential from Asians, but they aren’t telling, and nobody seems to be asking.

(Republished from iSteve by permission of author or representative)
• Tags: Education, SAT, Testing 
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The Unsilenced Silence blog has a good graph of Asian v. white SAT scores from 1996 to 2010 in terms of gaps in standard deviations:
So, like most things involving test scores, the gap was stable in the  later 1990s. However, Asians improved through much of the 2000s, especially on the Writing test, a new section of the SAT that strikes me as easier to game because it uses subjective (but very quick) grading. 
One possibility is that globalization of American colleges has led to more Asian-in-Asia elites having their kids take the SAT, which could be increasing the pool of smart Asians taking the test. I’m also concerned about test security, however, when the test is administered in Asia. The Graduate Record Exam has been plagued by instances of cheating in Asia. Also, the new Writing test is rather like the tests that the Chinese Empire conducted for millennia to pick mandarins. 
Another possibility is that the legal immigration system is working in bringing in smart Asians, who are becoming a larger fraction of the Asian-American population over time. But what about regression toward the mean? Amy Chua is very smart, for example, but she’s nowhere near as smart as her father, the conceptualizer of the memristor.
The take home lesson for Americans would seem to me to be that Americans shouldn’t credulously trust assertions by the College Board / ETS / ACT that their tests can’t really be gamed through test prep or other means. The SAT and ACT are, relatively speaking, very good tests, but we live in a highly competitive, globalized world full of people who are smart, hard-working, and less trusting and less believing in Fair Play than naive Americans.
Now, here’s his graph of the white-black SAT gap, which has been widening:
The sharp decline on The Gap in  2006 on the Verbal test (renamed Critical Reading) may have something to do with changes in that test, perhaps intended to make it easier on blacks. But, the general trend has been for The Gap to get worse, especially since the early 1990s. Yet, since the early 1990s (the Crack Years) were not a halcyon period for young blacks, the widening of the gap probably reflects concerted efforts since then by the Great and the Good to get more blacks to take the SAT (scraping the bottom of the barrel harder). 
The process might work like this: the University of California, prevented from using racial quotas by Prop. 209) demands changes in the SAT Verbal that it hopes will boost black and Hispanic scores. A small amount of initial success in narrowing The Gap, however, leads elites to then over-confidently subsidize more black test-takers. Scraping the bottom of the barrel harder drives The Gap in Verbal back up, and increases The Gap in the other two sections to new heights. (Or I may be over-interpreting this.)
Also, it’s likely that as test prep and gaming of the SAT has increased, that whites have benefited more from this than blacks. My mental model of who is doing more and more effectual test prep is Asians > whites > blacks and/or Mexicans > Other Hispanics (many of whom just arrived from Guatemala and are pretty clueless about the kinds of things that lead to higher scores that seem obvious to, say, a Hong Kong Chinese family in San Marino, CA).
Anyway, the White-Black gap graph shows the stability in gaps that is the overwhelming main lesson of generations of test score studies. Despite intense efforts by society since the mid-1960s, we still see about a one standard deviation gap between whites and blacks on a host of tests of cognitive ability (La Griffe du Lion’s Fundamental Constant of American Sociology). But, that makes the recent change in Asian v. white scores even more interesting and more deserving of study.
Unsilenced Science also has informative graphs showing trends by year in SAT scores (i.e., not standard deviations).

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The oldest SAT score report on the College Board website is from 1996, right after the “recentering” in 1995 that raised scores about 100 points on a 400 to 1600 scale. Over the last 15 years, the average overall score on the original two-part Verbal + Math SAT (i.e., ignoring the new-fangled Writing section of the test introduced in the last decade) fell a grand total of two points, from 1013 to 1011. (See what I mean about baseball statistics being more volatile?)
1996 v. 2011 College-Bound Seniors Avg SAT Scores
Total (V+M) Verbal Math
1996 2011 Chg 1996 2011 Chg 1996 2011 Chg
ALL 1013 1011 (2) 505 497 (8) 508 514 6
Female 995 995 0 503 495 (8) 492 500 8
Male 1034 1031 (3) 507 500 (7) 527 531 4
Asian 1054 1112 58 496 517 21 558 595 37
White 1049 1063 14 526 528 2 523 535 12
Black 856 855 (1) 434 428 (6) 422 427 5
AmerIndian 960 972 12 483 484 1 477 488 11
Mexican 914 917 3 455 451 (4) 459 466 7
PR 897 904 7 452 452 0 445 452 7
Other Hisp 931 913 (18) 465 451 (14) 466 462 (4)
You’ll note that the average white score went up 14 points form 1049 to 1063. Did white people get smarter over that period? I don’t know. The SAT changed a lot over those 15 years, with analogies being dropped and some Verbal multiple choice questions being exiled to Writing. Also, kids appear to have cared more about prepping in 2011, although the College Board doesn’t like to talk about this.

Asians went up 58 points, which is pretty striking. Everybody else fell farther behind whites, which wasn’t supposed to happen.

Now, it could be that scores actually did pretty well over this 15 year stretch, because the College Board scraped the bottom of the barrel harder. In 1996, 1,085,000 college-bound seniors took the SAT. In 2011, there were 1,647,000 senior SAT-takers. Just
between 2006 and 2011, the College Board let an incremental 150,000 students take the SAT free or at reduced cost.

On the other hand, my impression is that it became a lot more common for students to take both the SAT and ACT over that 15-year stretch, so some of the increase in the number of test-takers comes from people who would only have taken the ACT in 1996. It used to be that East and West Coasters took the SAT and Midwesterners the ACT, but by 2011, lots of students try both to see which one they’ll do better on. These kids who take both tests probably tend to be fairly ambitious ones who are looking to game the system by taking both tests, then submitting only the test score they did better upon. So, double-dippers likely scored reasonably well (although, of course, not so 2400 / 36 outstanding that they wouldn’t bother taking any test again).
(Has anybody recently done an authoritative study of the trend in overall SAT scores considering all the factors driving scores up or down?)
Between 1996 and 2011, everybody except Other Hispanics got a little better in Math. (I suspect that Other Hispanics used to be mostly Cubans and random fairly well-to-do South Americans, but now it includes a lot of Central Americans.) But Asians got a lot better: 37 points, from 558 to 595.
Verbal scores stagnated or declined slightly, except for Asians, who went up 21 points from 496 to 517. 
Now, let’s look at scores relative to the white scores in 1996 and 2011. A decade and a half ago, the overall score for everybody was 36 points lower than the white score. Today, it’s 52 points lower. Most of that 16 points of relative decline is due to the demographic composition of America’s SAT-takers changing for the worse.
Difference v. whites
Total (V+M)
1996 2011 Chg
ALL 36 52 (16)
Female 54 68 (14)
Male 15 32 (17)
Asian 5 49 44
White 0 0 0
Black 193 208 (15)
AmerIndian 89 91 (2)
Mexican 135 146 (11)
PR 152 159 (7)
Other Hisp 118 150 (32)
The Gap got worse for most of the minority groups that the press gets worked up over. Blacks fell from 193 points behind whites to 208 points (a 15 point relative decline, or a point per year). Mexicans fell from 135 lower to 146 lower. Other Hispanics fell the most, from 118 behind to 150 behind.
These declines are probably mostly due to society (especially the College Board) scraping the bottom of the barrel harder in 2011. What with the recession and all, everybody is convinced that they must go to college, so they try the SAT. The number of people who scored below 400 on Verbal grew from 179,000 to 302,000 and on Math from 172,000 to 251,000.

The number who scored 700 or higher also shot upwards, but that might be due in part to kids taking the SAT more times or taking both the SAT and ACT to see if they can shoot the moon. The number scoring 700 or higher on Verbal went up from 47,000 to 77,000 and on Math from 58,000 to 112,000. High scorers are presumably the most likely to do a lot of test prep and otherwise try to game the system.

In contrast to all other ethnic groups, who fell farther behind whites over the last 15 years, Asians had a 5 point advantage over whites in 1996, which blossomed to a 49 point lead by 2011, a relative cha
nge of 44 points.That’s a big change, relative to the near-stasis on everything else.

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From FairTest:
2011 College-Bound Seniors Avg SAT Scores
W/score changes from 2006
ALL 497 (-6) 514 (-4) 489 (-8) 1500 (-18)
Female 495 (-7) 500 (-2) 496 (-6) 1491 (-15)
Male 500 (-5) 531 (-5) 482 (-9) 1513 (-19)
Asian 517 (+7) 595 (+17) 528 (+16) 1640 (+40)
White 528 (+1) 535 (-1) 516 (-3) 1579 (-3)
Black 428 (-6) 427 (-2) 417 (-11) 1272 (-19)
AmerIndian 484 (-3) 488 (-6) 465 (-9) 1437 (-18)
Mexican 451 (-3) 466 (+1) 445 (-7) 1362 (-9)
PR 452 (-7) 452 (-4) 442 (-6) 1346 (-17)
Other Hisp 451 (-7) 462 (-1) 444 (-6) 1357 (-14)
I’ve been following baseball statistics since 1965 and educational test scores since 1972. Test scores are vastly more important for understanding how the world works, but they aren’t as diverting because they seldom change. For example, in the above, whites are just treading water, down 1% of a standard deviation over half a decade. Boring. NAM scores are down, probably mostly because the College Board has been subsidizing more NAMs to take the SAT for free as a publicity move. In other words, it’s probably not a real change.

But, wow, as I pointed out last year in writing about PSAT National Merit Semifinalists, Asians have just been pulling away from everybody else in the last few years.

Is the same trend true on low stakes tests, like most school achievement tests that are used to grade schools rather than students?

This is a big story and it deserves more research. Is the innate intelligence of Asians going up? Or does this prove that Tiger Mothering works? Is the SAT being unfairly gamed? There are a lot of questions here.

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From CBS:

SAT reading scores for the high school class of 2011 were the lowest on record, and combined reading and math scores fell to their lowest point since 1995. 

The College Board, which released the scores Wednesday, said the results reflect the record size and diversity of the pool of test-takers. … 

Still, it’s just the second time in the last two decades reading scores have fallen as much in a single year. And reading scores are now notably lower than as recently as 2005, when the average was 508. 

In contrast, scores on state exams mandated by the No Child Left Behind act have gone up, UP, UP! I wonder why? Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that the College Board and ETS don’t have large material incentives to get scores up by hook or by crook. There’s this concept called “conflict of interest” that you may have heard of, although evidently George W. Bush and Ted Kennedy hadn’t.

Average math scores for the class of 2011 fell one point to 514 and scores on the critical reading section fell two points to 489.

My guess is that math is more amenable to schoolroom instruction, since kids seldom do math for fun on their own. Since 1983, America has invested a lot in math teaching (often at the expense of history, arts, music, etc.), and we’ve gotten a (quite) modest but positive ROI. Reading in the classroom and homework, however, is merely a fraction of the total reading kids do (or ought to do), so spending less time on other subjects and more on reading has a more marginal effect.

College Board officials pointed to a range of indicators that the test-taking pool has expanded, particularly among Hispanics, which is a good sign that more students are aspiring to college. For instance, roughly 27 percent of the 1.65 million test-takers last year came from a home where English was not the only language, up from 19 percent just a decade ago.

Up through 2007, it was common for Hispanics to drop out of high school to take construction jobs, or the like. Since unemployment went up, Hispanics have been flooding into community colleges to give themselves something to do. Presumably, more marginal students are taking the SAT, depressing scores.

Also, they’ve been letting more and more students take the SAT for free since 2007, so the number of minority test takers increased from 553,000 to 720,000 from 2007 to 2011. (Here’s the College Board’s report.)

But the increasingly diverse group of test-takers is clearly having more trouble with reading and writing than with math. Wayne Camara, College Board vice president of research, said recent curriculum reforms that pushed math instruction may be coming at the expense of reading and writing — especially in an era when students are reading less and less at home. 

“We’re looking and wondering if (more) efforts in English and reading and writing would benefit” students, Camara said. ../

Based on research at 100 colleges, the College Board calculated that scoring 1550 (equivalent to about a 930 on the SAT M+V before 1995) or above on the three sections of the test indicated a 65-percent likelihood of attaining at least a B-minus average in the freshman year of college.

I once took a detailed look at what percentage of students in LA County public high schools score 1000 out of 1600 (M+V) on the SAT, which is a little below that 1550 out of 2400 cutoff that the College Board suggests. Among LAUSD seniors, only 14% scored at least 1000/1600.

The CB report says that this score of 517 / 800 is very close to the minimum Proficient score on the fed’s NAEP test of 12th graders. 517 is about the 57th percentile, while 500 is exactly the 50th percentile this year.

Overall, 43 percent of test-takers reached that benchmark. The College Board emphasized the tool is for policymakers, and shouldn’t be used by college admissions officers to evaluate individual candidates. 

The main message from the College Board was the importance of a rigorous curriculum, which is a strong and perhaps growing predictor of SAT scores. 

For instance, nearly one in five students takes less than four years of high school English. That’s about the same percentage as a decade ago, but it now makes a much bigger difference on SAT scores: The reading scores of those students have fallen from 500 to 462. Students who took AP and honors classes, meanwhile, score significantly higher across the board.


A decline in average scores isn’t necessarily good news for top students who were applying to competitive colleges. The number of high scores is also increasing. For instance, the number of students with math scores of at least 700 is up 22 percent since 2007.

Some of that may be ACT takers also taking the SAT. But, I think it’s pretty clear that the SAT is more and more being successfully gamed by the upper middle class’s Tiger Mothers. College Board / ETS don’t have strong incentives to lift average scores, but they also don’t have strong incentives to crack down on whatever it is that is allowing elite offspring to separate themselves from the masses.

For example, when I went to Rice, the average SAT score was about 1300. Now, it’s about 1440, which makes me 140 points awesomer. What incentive do I have to complain?

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From the Washington Post, here are the scores by state on the Preliminary SAT (PSAT) required to make the first cut in the National Merit Scholarship program. (To convert from the three part PSAT score to the traditional two-part SAT Math plus Verbal scores, divide by 3 and multiply by 20: e.g., Arizona requires a 210, which is like a 1400 on the SAT.) It’s a good indication of the number of upper middle class residents by state.

For example, Washington D.C. always trails all 50 states on average National Assessment of Educational Progress scores for public school students, but it ties with Massachusetts (which leads NAEP scores more often than any other state), Maryland, and New Jersey for first on this measure with a 221 (the equivalent of a 1473 on the post-1995 SAT). Montana usually is close behind Massachusetts on the NAEP, but only requires a 204 because it lacks much of a native, childbearing upper middle class. In contrast, California, whose white students do relatively poorly on the NAEP on average, does well on this measure, requiring a 218. The lowest scoring state is Wyoming at 201. I would guess that’s about 2/3rds of a standard deviation behind the top four states.

Alaska 211
Arizona 210
Arkansas 203
California 218
Colorado 213
Connecticut 218
Delaware 219
Washington D.C. 221
Florida 211
Georgia 214
Hawaii 214
Idaho 209
Illinois 214
Indiana 211
Iowa 209
Kansas 211
Kentucky 209
Louisiana 207
Maine 213
Maryland 221
Massachusetts 221
Michigan 209
Minnesota 215
Mississippi 203
Missouri 211
Montana 204
Nebraska 206
Nevada 202
New Hampshire 213
New Jersey 221
New Mexico 208
New York 218
North Carolina 214
North Dakota 202
Ohio 211
Oklahoma 207
Oregon 213
Pennsylvania 214
Rhode Island 217
South Carolina 211
South Dakota 205
Tennessee 213
Texas 216
Utah 206
Vermont 213
Virginia 218
Washington 217
West Virginia 203
Wisconsin 207
Wyoming 201

I haven’t quantified this, but I would assume that Blue States average higher scores than Red States on this measure, although Texas does well at 216.

In general, Texas does fairly well on most tests of educational competence, and it’s encouraging that such a huge state seems to perform relatively well both for the average and for the elite. It would be interesting to know how far back this goes in time, since Texas does not have a historical reputation for educational attainment the way Massachusetts does.

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Give the kids a really hard practice test when they walk in the door. Measure progress against that. From the WSJ:

SAT Coaching Found to Boost Scores–Barely

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A reader writes:

On the SAT (at least when I was coaching it in the late 1980s for The Princeton Review), there were six reading comprehension passages. One of these was the “diversity” passage — always about a woman or minority. Without even reading the passage itself, a smart person who understood how the test is designed and understood that the answers would never suggest anything derogatory about women/minorities, could get most of the questions correct. I used to amuse my father and older brothers by demonstrating how this worked. The principles I learned at TPR work, more or less, on any standardized college/professional school entrance test.

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A reader writes:

Rudy enrolled at Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School in 1957, an exclusive Catholic prep school. They accepted two kids from each parish.

From “Rudy: An Investigative Biography of Rudolph Giuliani” by Wayne Barrett on page 34:

“After seven semesters at Bishop Loughlin, Rudy’s grade average of 84.8 earned him a ranking of 130, putting him in the class’s second quintile. His report cards for those years show columns of mostly B’s and C’s, a few A’s and one D. He scored a 65 in chemistry, a 74 in Latin and a 92 in American history. His combined College Board scores, 569 in verbal and 504 in math, were twenty-seven points shy of 1100, and quite ordinary.”

Wayne Barrett is a writer at the Village Voice and professor at the Columbia School of Journalism, if you want to check with the source.

Here’s his academic history: “He attended Bishop Loughlin Memorial High School, Manhattan College in the Bronx, and New York University Law School, graduating magna cum laude.”

In comparison, George W. Bush scored 1206 and Al Gore 1330 on the SAT. All these scores are under the tougher pre-1995 scoring system. Add 70 or 80 points to get the equivalent under the current scores. Does anybody know what John McCain scored to get into Annapolis as the son and grandson of admirals?

It’s striking that more than a few men considered Presidential Timber wouldn’t have gotten a callback if they had applied to join, say, the Navy SEALs. It’s not that a fairly high IQ is so utterly crucial to being a good SEAL, but it does improve the odds. There are many men who want to be SEALs, and plenty of them have reasonably high IQs, so it’s no-brainer for the Navy to weigh IQ in the mix of qualifications.

Being Presdient, in contrast, does not generally require the physical ability to infiltrate an enemy harbor and silently kill sentries, so one might expect that IQ would be even more important in the Chief Executive job than in being a scuba commando.

Certainly, “intangibles” can make up for a modest IQ in a President, but are we so sure we are good at evaluating the intangibles of politicians? How good a job did we do with George W. Bush? And he wasn’t some nobody from nowhere. He was the son of a President. Many important people had met him during the twelve years his father had held the two highest offices in the land, and few had thought him a worthy successor. We knew that his own parents considered him inferior to his own brother Jeb. And yet, the Republican Establishment got behind him in 1999, drinking Karl Rove’s Kool-Aid that his intangibles would somehow make up for Bush’s tangible deficiencies.

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Steve Sailer
About Steve Sailer

Steve Sailer is a journalist, movie critic for Taki's Magazine, columnist, and founder of the Human Biodiversity discussion group for top scientists and public intellectuals.

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