Gaps in SAT Test Scores Reflect Differences in High School Preparation

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In its release of the “2012 Report on College and Career Readiness,” the College Board announced that the SAT was taken by more high school seniors than ever before, including the highest percentage of students of color. Yet only 43 percent of all test takers met the college readiness benchmark (a predictor of college success), evidence that the nation’s high schools are failing to adequately prepare many graduates to succeed in either college or career.

The college readiness benchmark “indicates a 65 percent likelihood of achieving a B- average or higher during the first year of study at a four-year college.” Students who meet the benchmark are more likely to enroll in a four-year institution, earn a higher first-year GPA in college, and return to school beyond the first year.

The College Board found SAT participation up 6 percent overall from 2008 and the test-taking pool is more diverse. The percentage of test takers who are Latino, for example, has doubled from 8 percent to 16 percent over the last decade. Expanded access helps paint a true picture of how high school graduates measure up on standards of preparedness and where they fall short.

And indeed too many students are coming up short. In this testing round, the gaps between black and white students were around 100 points per subject; around 75 points per subject between Latino and white students; and almost 50 points per subject between American Indian and white students. That their scores so consistently lagged those of their white peers is a symptom of the widespread differences in preparation that white students and students of color receive from their schools. It is unsurprising that test takers who performed poorly also are those whose high school classes did not include such advanced courses as pre-calculus, calculus, and physics. In fact, low-income students and students of color who took the SAT were less likely to have completed a core curriculum — 65 percent of African Americans and 69 percent of Latinos, compared with 80 percent of whites; and tested students of color were also less likely to have taken AP or honors courses. Such evidence again confirms the connection between how students do on the SAT and the rigor of the courses or curriculum they take in high school.

It is good news that more students, of all backgrounds, are setting their sights on college. But to ensure their success and meet the nation’s college-completion aspirations, we must correct the poor foundational coursework to which certain groups of students continue to be subjected.

— Anneliese M. Bruner