The University of California system is doing away with SAT scores as a piece of their admission criteria. The controversy is huge, getting coverage in The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.
For years, we have known that the income level of the family is highly correlated to SAT scores. If you are from a low-income household or a minority household, chances are that your score is lower on the SAT. The SAT attempts to give a weighted score based on adversity factors, and it is widely criticized.
William McGurn argues in The Wall Street Journal that the real issue in getting educated is family stability. Stability is a huge factor in the well-being of children. Additionally, as Paul Tough indicates in the New York Times piece, college success is highly correlated to high school grades. Those grades represent effort and the willingness to work to achieve.
But both of these commentaries miss a very basic fact. The SAT measures acquired knowledge, a great deal of acquired knowledge is measured in vocabulary, and it is abstract representational vocabulary that is used in households where the adults are educated. It is the intergenerational transfer of knowledge. Sharkey and Elwert, in their paper “The Legacy of Disadvantage,” indicate that “a family’s exposure to neighborhood poverty across two consecutive generations reduces child cognitive ability by more than half a standard deviation.”
Furthermore, SAT questions require that one respond against the constructs of a discipline—a formal way of organizing schema and thinking. These ways of “thinking” are often not available in less educated households.
Rather than punish students because of the “opportunity gap” that they have experienced, it would be much better for us to acknowledge their willingness to work and achieve (grades). I support the University of California system’s decision not to use SAT scores as a requirement for admission.
Why would we deny opportunity again because they have already had an opportunity gap?