The cries of racism with regard to the SAT have long sparked debate among educators and activists. A new paper published in the Harvard Educational Review will most likely reignite the discussion. Among its many findings the paper concluded that the SAT was in fact biased against Blacks. “The SAT, a high-stakes test with significant consequences for the educational opportunities available to young people in the United States, favors one ethnic group over another,” say the paper’s co-authors Maria Veronica Santelices, assistant professor of education at the Catholic University of Chile, and Mark Wilson, professor of education at the University of California at Berkeley. Santelices and Wilson focused on SAT questions that show “Differential Item Functioning — a method of test analysis that examines how different ethnic groups “matched by proficiency” will fare on each item. “A DIF question has notable differences between Black and White (or, in theory, other subsets of students) whose educational background and skill set suggest that they should get similar scores,” said a report in Inside Higher Education. As suggested by the new study, some verbal questions have a DIF for Black students and some have it for Whites. When it came to easier verbal questions, the DIF favored White students while on the more difficult verbal questions, the DIF favored Black students. An earlier study published in 2003 by Roy Freedle of the Educational Testing Service — which oversees the SAT — found that the easier verbal questions often had cultural expressions common in White society which gave White students an edge over other minorities that was rooted in having grown up in a dominant White society. Black students had most likely studied the difficult words rather than absorbed them in their everyday lives. The fact that SAT scores tend to be weighted toward the easier questions puts Black students at a disadvantage, concluded Freedle.
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