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New Study Looks at Racial Bias in SAT

The controversy over the SAT possibly having a racial bias against African-American students has been reignited in the wake of a new study published in the Harvard Educational Review.

The article by Maria Veronica Santelices and Mark Wilson in the Spring 2010 issue confirms research in 2003 by Roy Freedle that questions in the verbal section of the college- entrance test do function differently for black students than from whites. This may mean that the average test scores of black students lag behind their white counterpart not just because of economic disparities or school quality.

The College Board, which runs the SAT, strongly dismisses the research, noting that the Harvard Educational Review is neither a scientific journal nor is it a peer-reviewed publication.

The College Board responded in a statement today: "The research published in Harvard Educational Review is deeply flawed, and it would be reckless and irresponsible to position the authors' conclusions as fact when those conclusions are based on inconsistent findings. This research utilizes only partial data sets, focuses on a student sample that is not representative of the entire population of SAT takers, and draws conclusions that do not match the data. Simply stated, this research does not withstand scrutiny."

So, the debate continues. If this new research is embraced, it could have significant implications for the college-admissions process as institutions reconsider the fairness of the SAT and how to weigh test results.

Santelices and Wilson argue that the testing industry has an obligation to study the phenomenon.

On average, black students score about 100 points less on the SAT than white students, according to a 2009 report by the College Board.

For more background on the issue, see today's piece posted in Inside Higher Ed and Jay Matthew's blog in The Washington Post.

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