The Growing Correlation betweem Race and SAT Scores : New Findings from California

This paper presents new and surprising findings on the relationship between race and SAT scores. The findings are based on the population of California residents who applied for admission to the University of California from 1994 through 2011, a sample of over 1.1 million students. The UC data show that socioeconomic background factors–family income, parental education, and race/ethnicity–account for a large and growing share of the variance in students’ SAT scores over the past twenty years. More than a third of the variance in SAT scores can now be predicted by factors known at students’ birth, up from a quarter of the variance in 1994. Of those factors, moreover, race has become the strongest predictor. Rather than declining in salience, race and ethnicity are now more important than either family income or parental education in accounting for test score differences. It must be cautioned that these findings are preliminary, and more research is needed to determine whether the California data reflect a broader national trend. But if these findings are representative, they have important implications for the ongoing debate over both affirmative action and standardized testing in college admissions.
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