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Study: SAT Scores Correspond To Family Income

Alberto G.

Numbers from the College Board show that SAT scores correspond to family income, and one analyst says that isn't likely to change despite changes being made to the exam.

Students who took the college entrance exam in 2014 outscored students in the income bracket lower than theirs on all three sections of the SAT.   The calculations were made by the National Center for Fair and Open Testing.  They show that students from families in households with income of $200,000 or higher scored an average of 1722 out of a possible 2400, while those with household income of $20,000 or less averaged 1324.  "Of course, there are exceptions to the rule. It doesn't mean that low-income kids can't beat the odds, but if you take an average of low-income kids and compare them to an average of high-income kids, (low-income students) are usually going to perform worse," said Ashlyn Nelson, associate professor at IU's School of Public and Environmental Affairs.  

Much has been made about what some say was the language gap that some educators believed led to lower SAT scores among the poor, though Nelson says the College Board has already changed the SAT to get rid of some words that low-income students may not have been exposed to.  On the other hand, Nelson says the numbers could also be skewed slightly since students of higher income are more likely to take the SAT.   "There are huge cross-school differences in the share of students that take the SAT, and the share is much higher in schools where there are fewer students who are in poverty."  The SAT is changing yet again in 2016, with the essay portion that was added in 2005 dropped, leaving only the reading and math sections that previously existed and dropping a perfect score back to 1600. 
"I don't think that changing the assessment mechanism or revising the SAT is going to ever get us to a place where we are closing the income-based achievement gap," Nelson said, adding that disparities in education between wealthier and poorer families begin in early childhood.  "There have always been income-based achievement gaps, and those income-based gaps have been growing over time."   But the gap is important since some employers ask for SAT scores as part of the job application process, sometimes long after a person took the exam.

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