New SAT, Old Gaps on Race

As College Board unveils results from the new version of the exam, Asians beat all other groups.

September 27, 2017

More than 93 percent of the students who took the SAT during the 2016-17 academic year took the new version of the test. That makes the results released Tuesday the baseline against which future scores can be compared. But since this is the first time the SAT has had a majority of test takers using the new version of the test, the College Board maintains that it would be inaccurate to compare this year's scores to previous scores for the annual articles here and elsewhere (at least most years) on whether scores are up or down.

That said, the data do show that an issue that has worried educators for years -- gaps in average scores by race and ethnicity -- remains. Similar gaps are apparent in this year's ACT scores.

For SAT scores, a particularly striking figure relates to the performance of Asian-Americans who took the test.

In the last year before the College Board started to switch to the new version of the SAT, white students outscored Asian students in one category, critical reading. In the new version of the SAT, Asian students scored higher on average on both parts of the test than did all other student groups. Experts on admissions know of course that colleges admit on the basis of more than test scores, and typically on a wide range of factors.

But critics of affirmative action -- perhaps including the U.S. Justice Department -- have focused on test scores to argue that elite colleges are discriminating against Asian applicants. The new data not only show Asian students earning top scores, but also that Asian students were significantly more likely to have met what the College Board calls "benchmark" scores indicating that students have a 75 percent chance of earning a C or higher in various college courses. The table below shows the percentage of students who met the benchmark for both the mathematics and the reading and writing sections of the test.

2017 Mean SAT Scores, and Percentage Meeting Benchmarks, by Race and Ethnicity

Group Reading and Writing Mathematics Met Both Benchmarks
American Indian/Alaska Native 486 477 27%
Asian 569 612 70%
Black 479 462 20%
Latino 500 487 31%
Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander 498 488 32%
White 565 553 59%


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