On Oct. 4, a tweet from Monitoring Bias shared SAT scores according to racial demographic groups in Michigan. It specifically showed that only 3 percent of Black test-takers scored above 1200 on the SAT versus 47 percent of Asian students, 19 percent of white students, and 8 percent of Latino/a/x students. When I did my own research on SAT scores in my state of New Jersey, I found something interesting. Generally, the higher the percentage of Black students in a school district, the lower the combined score for SAT test takers of that district, according to the New Jersey Department of Education.
What does this data mean?
Some would say that the data says what we already knew, that an achievement gap exists between Black and white students as well as between Black and Asian students. That’s not a controversial statement. Yet the statement—specifically the use of “achievement gaps”—perpetuates deficit mindsets. It could also contribute to the racist reasoning that “explains” why such performance gaps exist. Or it could be that some of the people “explaining” the gaps could very well be racists, but I digress.
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Before answering what the data means, we must consider some of what the data actually does. It emboldens racists to continue believing in myths about Black children and Black people, particularly when compared to the Asian community; another group of color.
You may hear some argue that Asian students perform better than Black students, for example, because Asian communities prioritize test prep more than other groups, or that some Black students lack the financial resources for test prep courses. But there are other arguments that speak to the “culture” and behaviors of Black people that put the fault of performance “gaps” squarely at their door.
Examples include that it is because Black people grow up in single-parent households (for whatever reason—and that behavior is possible genetic) or that Black people are uninvolved and/or incompetent parents. Even the myth of Asian students as the “model minority” is an example that harms many.
Those are simply racist tropes/stereotypes to ignore, excuse, or avoid the truth. The truth is that these tests, along with most standardized tests, are racist, to begin with.
The SAT was invented by Carl Brigham, a eugenicist and a racist, who said that African Americans were on the low end of the racial, ethnic, and/or cultural spectrum. Under the guise of testing for aptitude, the SAT tests produce a racial hierarchy based on the scores. The obvious racial hierarchy resulting from the scores prompted the College Board to try and institute an “adversity score” to account for the racist nature of the test. This effort was abandoned after backlash.
Why Asian students particularly outperform all other racial groups actually has to do with test prep courses and materials being marketed to them more than anyone else. While test prep alone doesn’t guarantee high scores, test prep combined with attending well-resourced schools manifests the gaps we see.
Thankfully, many schools have abandoned the SAT and other standardized tests as tools to predict student success at the higher education level. But there is more conversation to be had and policy-making to done on behalf of actually understanding Black student academic performance.
Making these tests central to gauging Black student intelligence does not aid understanding because intelligence is displayed various ways. In order to properly ascertain Black student performance, assessments must be culturally responsive and connected to a tangible display of skill that provides young people the opportunity to offer solutions to problems.
Sadly, making Black students critical thinkers isn’t a priority. If it were, then America would have a problem. I guess that’s why all these books are being banned.