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Is the SAT a Wealth Test? Modeling the Influence of Family Income on Black & White SAT Scores Howard Everson College Board Ezekiel Dixon-Román Fordham University J.J. McArdle University of Virginia. Prepare. Inspire. Connect. Purpose.

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prepare inspire connect
Is the SAT a Wealth Test?Modeling the Influence of Family Income on Black & White SAT ScoresHoward EversonCollege BoardEzekiel Dixon-RománFordham University J.J. McArdleUniversity of Virginia

Prepare. Inspire. Connect.

  • Many policy makers and critics claim that SAT scores are strongly influenced by wealth and family income.
  • These analyses often fail to consider the related influences of parental education levels and high school achievement, making it difficult to isolate the effects of family income on SAT scores.
  • Using a series of structural equation models (SEMs), we attempted to isolate the effects of family income on SAT scores in samples of Black and White high school students who took the SAT in 2003 and 2004.

Our approach in this paper is to examine the joint influences of parental education, family income, and academic achievement on black and white high school students’ verbal and math SAT scores. The explanatory models we developed were fit and cross-validated in two cohorts (2003 and 2004) of college-bound students.

our sample
Our Sample

The samples are from two cohorts of college-bound seniors who took the SAT and who graduated from high school in 2003 and 2004. Generally, they represent about 45% of all H.S. seniors in the U.S. Girls make up about 54% of these groups, and the cohorts are largely White (69%), with 11% Black, 8% Asian American, 4% Mexican American, 4% other Latinos, 1% Native American, and 3% “other”. Our focus is on the Black and White students in both the 2003 and 2004 cohorts.

data source
Data Source

Students completed a lengthy questionnaire, indicating the total number of years they took high school courses in specific subject areas, reporting their GPAs on a scale of A to F for each academic subject, their best estimates of annual family income in increments of $10,000 (up to $100,000 or more per year), and reporting the highest level of education attained by their parents. These variables, eleven in all, were used in our models.

preliminary conclusions
Preliminary Conclusions

Analyses suggest the importance of family income on SAT performance.

These models are plausible explanations of SAT performance.

The direct effect of family income appears to be more influential for Blacks (i.e., 22 points on the total SAT scale) than for Whites (i.e., 10 points on the total SAT scale).

This implies that the Black-White SAT score gap narrows as family income increases.

preliminary conclusions1
Preliminary Conclusions

The total effects for family income suggest that influences of income are mediated substantially by the magnitude and quality of students’ high school achievements.

This implies that the Black-White score gaps could be narrowed even further with increased attention to factors related to high school opportunities and achievement.

Parental education levels are also important influences on SAT scores, independent of family income. For both the Black and White examinees the joint direct effects of mothers’ and fathers’ education are approximately 14 points on the total SAT scale.