We've seen a considerable amount of debate over affirmative action in college admissions lately, particularly among many Asian Americans. Recently, I saw a comment criticizing an article advocating for affirmative action. The comment accused the article of being "racist" due to its assertion that criteria like test scores place Black and Latinx students at a disadvantage, arguing that the statement implied that these students are "not smart enough" to meet these criteria and get into elite schools. On the surface, scores on tests like the SAT might seem like an impartial assessment of a student, leading people like this commenter to immediately label this comment as "racist." However, test scores aren't actually quite as equitable as people may think.
What many fail to consider is the differing conditions and environments of certain students and how each individual student's circumstances can actually have an impact on their test scores -- put simply, SAT scores are not just indisputable numbers, although they may seem like it. If we look at average SAT scores broken down by race, the statistics show that Asian American students have the highest average SAT scores, followed by white students. Meanwhile, Black students have the lowest average, and both Black and Hispanic students trail behind Asian American students by at least 200 points. Additionally, if we look at average SAT scores broken down by income, statistics show that students in higher-income families get higher SAT scores. With this information, we can also take into account the fact that Black and Latinx Americans have the highest poverty rates of any other racial groups in the U.S. When we look at these statistics together, can we really conclude that SAT scores are an impartial measure of a student's merit? Lower SAT scores don't mean that Black, Latinx, and lower income students aren't "smart enough," but rather that they face inequities that contribute to these continuing trends in test scores.
So what exactly impacts the SAT scores of these students? The main contributing factor is access -- whether to certain classes, programs, resources, or even just school funding. Even from personal experience, I can point out multiple resources that people in higher-income (and also majority white) communities take for granted. For example, not everyone has access to SAT prep classes or materials nearby -- and not everyone can afford them. Not everyone has the time to study for the SAT for extended periods of time, especially those who might have to work when they're not at school to help support their families or those who have to take care of younger siblings at home. And not everyone has the time or money to take the SAT multiple times if they're not satisfied with their initial score. Personally, I've had friends who worked extremely hard to get a higher SAT score, even paying for intensive SAT classes that took place outside of our town and took up most of their time during the week. Of course, I won't discount anyone's hard work, but these types of programs that help students get higher scores simply aren't available or viable options for everyone. Considering how many of these SAT prep classes have dramatically improved many people's SAT scores, it's not a reach to say that those who can't afford to go to them, don't have access, or simply don't have the time are placed at a disadvantage. And looking at the statistics, we can conclude that a large portion of these people are Black and Latinx students, especially those in low-income communities.
The point is that we need to start breaking away from the idea that the numbers don't lie -- the reality is that they are not, in fact, an equitable or fair measurement of a student's merit or potential. The SAT -- and other tests -- isn't at all a pure measurement of how "smart" a student is, nor is it the sort of equalizing criteria that many who argue against affirmative action make it out to be. So yes, the SAT does, in fact, put certain communities at a disadvantage.