These four charts show how the SAT favors rich, educated families

The College Board announced Wednesday that it is overhauling the SAT, dropping the timed essay and focusing less on fancy vocabulary in order to level the playing field a bit for high school students from a wider range of families. The organization's own data show that wealthier Americans, from more educated families, tend to do far better on the best. As do white and Asian Americans, and those students who had the opportunity to take the PSAT in high school before taking the SAT. Almost certainly, these four findings have common origins in that the SAT benefits families who can provide their kids with a better education and more test prep. But here are four charts that show how the SAT advantages specific demographics.

The first chart shows that SAT scores are highly correlated with income. Students from families earning more than $200,000 a year average a combined score of 1,714, while students from families earning under $20,000 a year average a combined score of 1,326. The writing test has the widest score gap, perhaps explaining why College Board officials are dropping the essay.


The second chart shows that students from educated families do better. A student with a parent with a graduate degree, for example, on average scores 300 points higher on their SATs compared to a student with a parent with only a high school degree. No doubt this is the same dynamic reflected in the income graph, given that there are high returns to college education. But it also dispels the notion that students in America have good opportunities to advance regardless of the family they're born to.


The third chart shows that Asians and whites get much higher scores than other ethnic groups. Asians top the test with an average score of 1,645, while African Americans record the lowest score with an average of 1,278. It appears that the advantage of white students over black and Hispanic students is roughly similar for the reading, math and writing test.


The fourth chart shows that taking the PSAT once or twice tends to lead to a higher score. Students who don't take the PSAT, for instance, have an average score of 1,409, while students who take it twice - once in their junior year and then once before that -- have an average score of 1,612. This almost certainly reflects the fact that schools in wealthier communities do a better job of preparing students for standardized testing, including by offering PSATs.


Zachary A. Goldfarb is policy editor at The Washington Post.
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