Gerry Canavan

the smartest kid on earth

Class and Race Bias in the SAT

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Psychometricians like Freedle and his colleagues at ETS, which was then managing the SAT, looked at how different ethnicities that were matched at different scoring levels (those who had scored 360 on the SAT verbal test, then those who had scored 380, and so on) did on each item.

At each level of ability, but particularly in the lower-scoring groups, white students on average did better than blacks on the easier items, whereas blacks on average did better than whites on the harder ones. (Whites, however, as a group did better overall.)

This was unexpected. The deeper Freedle got into it, the more uncomfortable his supervisors seemed to be with his work. He had to revise one paper more than 11 times before they allowed him to publish it.

Hard questions, those that produced more wrong answers, tended to have longer, less common words. Easy questions tended to have shorter, more common words. Freedle thought this was key to the relative success African American students had with the harder ones. Simpler words tended to have more meanings, and in some cases different meanings in white middle class neighborhoods than they had in underprivileged minority neighborhoods, he concluded. This, he said, could help explain why African American students did worse on questions with common words than on questions that depended on harder, but less ambiguous words they studied at school.

On average, he said, black students were performing only slightly above matched-ability whites on hard questions. But averages did not submit applications to colleges. Individual students did. Some of those individuals, he discovered, would have gotten a boost of a hundred points or more on the SAT if the score was weighted toward the hard items. He proposed that the College Board offer a supplement to SAT scores, called the Revised-SAT, or R-SAT, which would be calculated based only on the hard items. This, he said, would “greatly increase the number of high-scoring minority individuals.” (via yet another MetaFilter argument about linguistic prescriptivism)

Written by gerrycanavan

June 19, 2010 at 10:33 am

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