March 7, 2014

SAT gaps by income narrowing, not widening

Everybody knows that SAT scores have increasingly diverged by household income. For example, a long New York Times Magazine piece about David Coleman and his proposed changes in the SAT takes that as a given:
Students despised the SAT not just because of the intense anxiety it caused — it was one of the biggest barriers to entry to the colleges they dreamed of attending — but also because they didn’t know what to expect from the exam and felt that it played clever tricks, asking the kinds of questions they rarely encountered in their high-school courses. Students were docked one-quarter point for every multiple-choice question they got wrong, requiring a time-consuming risk analysis to determine which questions to answer and which to leave blank. Teachers, too, felt the test wasn’t based on what they were doing in class, and yet the mean SAT scores of many high schools were published by state education departments, which meant that blame for poor performances was often directed at them. 
An even more serious charge leveled at the test was that it put students whose families had money at a distinct advantage, because their parents could afford expensive test-prep classes and tutors.

This may very well be, but Unsilenced Science has created the graphs above that show not a widening gap in test scores between income brackets, but a narrowing gap. For example, in 1996, the gap on Critical Reading (Verbal) between the average score of students with incomes under $20K and students with incomes over $100K was 113 points, versus only 102 points in 2013. The narrowing of the gap among high and low income students on the Math subtest has been even greater.

Now, some of that narrowing is caused by inflation: people making over $100k aren't as elite on average in 2013 as in 1996. You can see an especially sharp decline in average SAT scores among the six-figure crowd during the Bush Bubble when lots of test-takers' parents were temporarily propelled into the >$100k range by selling each other subprime mortgages and fancy rims for their Hummers:
I wouldn't take the huge growth in the number of six-figure students taking the SAT wholly at face value. I suspect that some of the growth comes from Midwesterners who, in the past, would have taken only the ACT also starting to take the SAT as well. (Certainly the growth in numbers of ACT takers has grown from Easterners starting to take the ACT as well to increase their chances of a high score.)

But the test scores of the bottom income ranges have been going up over the last half decade, so there is possibly some genuine narrowing of the gap, and quite likely no widening.

There are lots more informative graphs where these came from.

By the way, does anybody know how accurate these income estimates are? Are they getting them from parents or from students?
   

40 comments:

Anonymous said...

How about this, NAM parents earning more relative to their ability, therefore higher income for lower ability students. Conversely and perversely, Asians and some whites making less relative to their ability, therefore lower income parents of higher ability students. In other words, in the past, parent income and student ability had a higher correlation.

Also, is that inflation adjusted income? if not, then lots of folks of lower ability are just crossing some income threshold and bringing down the averages.

Geoff Matthews said...

If I remember ACT's CAAP test correctly, it has a question on household income. It would not surprise me if the ACT has the same.
It certainly is the cheapest way to get income information, and the least objectionable.

Anonymous said...

I can understand where student are coming from when they say the SAT is unfair.

Since the SAT is largely an IQ test, there is not much one can do improve one's score. On the other hand, the tests that students take in high school, say, math, history, English, etc become easier the more one studies for them.

Students have it drilled into them that studying will get them ahead -- and it largely does for high-school stuff. But then at the very end of their school journey comes this insurmountable test, which is totally unlike anything that they have seen in high school.

The Australia college admission system is the opposite of the SAT. It tests students on exactly the subjects that they took in high school; and the tests that they take are in the same style as the tests that they have been taking for years.

Under this system, someone taking french, cooking, low-level English and low-level math could achieve the same "final score" (called an ATAR) as someone taking physics, high-math and high-English. As such, the low-level student and the high-level student would have exactly the same chance of getting into one of Australia's better universities, even though the high-level student is clearly smarter.

Despite this, Australia has maintained somewhat of a university hierarchy, but it's still nothing like what exits in the US.

vinteuil said...

"Students were docked one-quarter point for every multiple-choice question they got wrong, requiring a time-consuming risk analysis to determine which questions to answer and which to leave blank."

Wow. Stupid just doesn't get much stupider than this.

I spent years coaching people on the SAT & the ACT. And one of the main points was NOT to consume one's time in "risk-analysis."

If a question is too hard, or doesn't immediately make sense to you - SKIP IT. Move on to the next question. Come back later if you have the time.

Like anyone really needs anybody to tell him stuff like that.

Anyway, as I understand it, the 1/4 penalty for wrong answers on the SAT was meant to discourage random guessing.

Is there some reason why random guessing on the SAT should not be discouraged?

Heck if I know.

Anonymous said...

"Transgender Athlete Chloie Jonsson Launches Discrimination Lawsuit Against CrossFit"

http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/transgender-athlete-chloie-jonsson-launches-discrimination-lawsuit-against-crossfit-1439327

"Transgender athlete Chloie Jonsson has filed a $2.5million (£15m) lawsuit against CrossFit for allegedly banning her from competing in the women's division for its annual games.

Jonsson, who weighs 151lbs and is 5Ft 4, claims she was rejected by the fitness company because of gender identity discrimination.

In court documents obtained by TMZ, Jonsson states that although the state of California legally recognises her as a woman, CrossFit has failed to accept her new identity.

She says she underwent gender assignment surgery back in 2006 and refusing her entry into the games, because she was born a man, is a violation of her civil rights as a transgender woman."

nooffensebut said...

“For example, in 1996, the gap on Critical Reading (Verbal) between the average score of students with incomes under $20K and students with incomes over $100K was about 116 points, versus only about 101 points in 2013.”

You’re very close. The exact (rounded) numbers are 113 in 1996 and 102 in 2013.

“I suspect that some of the growth comes from Midwesterners who, in the past, would have taken only the ACT also starting to take the SAT as well.”

All Midwestern states have declining SAT participation, except Indiana.

“By the way, does anybody know how accurate these income estimates are? Are they getting them from parents or from students?”

Non-response rates are very high for the income question, which is based on a student questionnaire. From 1998 to 2013, 23 million students took the SAT, and only 13.7 million answered the income question. I see no concrete reason to believe that large-scale bias would genuinely affect one income bracket more than another. I can find interesting deductions from the data that reflect the real world and speak to the data’s relative accuracy.

ben tillman said...

Students despised the SAT not just because of the intense anxiety it caused — it was one of the biggest barriers to entry to the colleges they dreamed of attending

That is offensively dishonest. Obviously, students who might view it as a barrier weren't smart enough to be shooting for elite universities, which means they wouldn't have viewed it as a barrier. Most certainly viewed it with anxiety, as something they could screw up. And some, of course, viewed it as their ticket to an elite school or a scholarship at a lesser school.

Students were docked one-quarter point for every multiple-choice question they got wrong, requiring a time-consuming risk analysis to determine which questions to answer and which to leave blank.

No way.

zolf said...

Alert! Rare immigration poll not involving confusing and biased questions released! Must credit Zolf!

http://www.washingtonpost.com/page/2010-2019/WashingtonPost/2014/03/04/National-Politics/Polling/question_13272.xml

"If a candidate for U.S. Congress supports a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, would that make you more likely to vote for that candidate, less likely or wouldn't it make much difference in your vote?"

Among registered voters, a "path to citizenship" is rejected by 12 point margin. Among Republicans, opposition is 60 with 14 favoring.

I've scanned the pollingreport.com archive, polls with unbiased wording on immigration are amazingly rare.

This is the same sample of people polled that favor gay marriage by a 59-34 margin, the largest ever seen, so this is not a right-tilted sample, and also strongly supports the minimum wage and has a negative view of the "Tea Party Movement."

Anonymous said...

Some of this is due to inflation, unless the incomes listed are 'real incomes':

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Median_US_household_income.png

ben tillman said...

Alert! Rare immigration poll not involving confusing and biased questions released! Must credit Zolf!

Sorry, but that question is still seriously biased because it asks about a position on a policy that has never been proposed. The actual policy proposal is much worse. No one has proposed or supported a "path to citizenship".

It is always a path to extra-special super-duper citizenship that entitles the illegals to a vast array of privileges and immunities that White "citizens" don't get.

Anonymous said...

Steve, you are a smart guy but you too frequently low-ball the intelligence of your readers. Let me fix your title, Steve, with the aspiration of believing that your readers are actually interested in how the world really works for most people. "SAT gaps are WIDENING" (when measured by the scores of children of parents with easily-gotten income in the randomly elite classes of the United States - a statistical artifact that is easily hidden). "SAT gaps are NARROWING" (when measured by the parameter of the level of blood sweat and tears effort high IQ income tiger parents and their analogues in other ethnic groups expend, in their asymptotical and sad belief that their children do not deserve to live in a country where they can aspire to be creatively intelligent, rather than subserviently studious, in their (i.e,, their children's) pre-university years). (sorry for the run-on sentences, but such sentences are effective for jolting people out of preconceptions, it is like revving the engine on a well-designed vintage car). I apologize if actual understanding of the world, and distinctive distrust of big business testing graphs, is something your readers find hard. OT, but if you want to understand Russian motives (something I am able to do because I spent my teenage years learning languages, instead of spending those years sucking up to test-writing corporations) in the Crimea, try to imagine why the Crimea is to proud Russians what Harlem is to proud African Americans. (Google Leonid Utyosov and the song Chyornoye Morye, and Ralph Ellison on Harlem, for two ultra-talented examples).

Steve Sailer said...

"Some of this is due to inflation, unless the incomes listed are 'real incomes':"

It's asking a lot of teens to ask them their household income, much less their household income in 1996 dollars.

Anonymous said...

"It's asking a lot of teens to ask them their household income, much less their household income in 1996 dollars."

One should simply convert the reported income to a national z-score for that year. I.E. 300k household income ~ top 1% in 2014 (not sure if this is the actual number) = ~ 2.1 sigma.

That said, it probably wouldn't change all that much. Excuse this pedantic tendency, I think about gauge theories for a living.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gauge_theory

Zorkmid said...

In my (USA) family up to this point (oldest child is HS freshman) the kids aren't told our household income, though they know it is upper-quartile at least yet still very far from rich.*

I suppose in a couple of years we parents will have to tell the kids and hope they can maintain discretion.

I'll guess some SAT-takers simply don't know how much moola their parents bring home.

*I define "rich" for this purpose as "affluent enough to travel by private jet" (Netjet counts). If you have to fly on scheduled airlines, you aint rich.

Anonymous said...

It's actually a huge deal whether the income is earned by one parent or two, and the income data doesn't make that distinction, even though it results in statistically significant effects on outcome for white households, so it likely would even for those pesky NAMs. Hint: most of those 60k NAM families from the 90s were earning it with double-incomes, while white families from the same time were not.

The recent "breadwinner mom" hubbub committed this error, of assuming that a woman making 50k while her husband made 30k was a superior situation to a SAHM with a husband making 75k.

Anonymous said...

http://www.spiked-online.com/newsite/article/it-is-the-west-not-russia-that-has-behaved-recklessly-in-ukraine/14736#.UxrB1z9dVA0

Anonymous said...

The reasoning doesn't matter, nobody is really going to look into this, and more importantly nobody has the power to stop it.

Anonymous said...

I didn't despise the SAT. I loved every minute of it. The reason? I was from a crummy little blue-collar town outside of Cleveland, a place no selective college had ever sent a recruiter. The only way I was going to get out of there was to crush the SAT, which I did, and which did get me out of there.

Immodestly I think I can say that society got just recompense for finding me and training me. I got a Ph.D. in engineering, helped launch a bunch of important satellites, and paid a truckload of taxes. Without the SAT, I'd probably be an auto mechanic in Youngstown. Nothing wrong with auto mechanics, but I was capable of more.

Long live the SAT. May they not *^&% with it.

Anonymous said...

Big Lebowski

http://youtu.be/qDu9FfKt9OU?t=31m9s

http://ideas.time.com/2014/03/04/dave-barry-learns-everything-you-need-to-know-about-being-a-husband-from-50-shades-of-grey/

The way of media:

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/columnists/kass/ct-kass-met-0307-20140307,0,6182125.column

Anonymous said...

"Long live the SAT. May they not *^&% with it.

3/8/14, 5:30 AM"

I heard on the TV news the other day that the SAT would delete most/all infrequently used words and replace them with words that people use most of the time. This was to be put in place for year 2016.

europeasant

Anonymous said...

http://stuartschneiderman.blogspot.com/2014/03/steven-pinker-on-gender.html

Curtis said...

Anonymous raises a good point, which is that standardized tests tend to promote equality. It doesn't matter what your connections or who can write you a recommendation letter - if you do well on the test, you're in.

Anonymous said...

"...and felt that it played clever tricks, asking the kinds of questions they rarely encountered in their high-school courses."

How dreadful!

World War C[lever]

Winterdontend said...

This debunks Charles Murray theory that America has become significantly more meritocratic in the last 60 years. Just the opposite: money and SATs were even MORE correlated 60 years ago than they are today.

Winterdontend said...

I didn't despise the SAT. I loved every minute of it. The reason? I was from a crummy little blue-collar town outside of Cleveland, a place no selective college had ever sent a recruiter. The only way I was going to get out of there was to crush the SAT, which I did, and which did get me out of there.

In Canada we don't have an SAT and people get out of small towns by getting good grades. Even without the SAT people take exams in school that determine what university they get into via the effect these exams have on their GPA. The SAT is just one more exam, the only difference is it's nationally standardized allowed inter-school comparisons.

Anonymous said...

Steve, Ann Coulter mentioned you during the immigration panel at CPAC.

Winterdontend said...

Since the SAT is largely an IQ test, there is not much one can do improve one's score. On the other hand, the tests that students take in high school, say, math, history, English, etc become easier the more one studies for them.


The SAT is no different from any other test people take in school. All are highly correlated with IQ when you adjust for restriction of range, because school learning is very g loaded. The only advantage of using the SAT over say GPA is that it's nationally standardized and thus fair to all high school seniors regardless of the school, teachers or subjects they endured.

Students have it drilled into them that studying will get them ahead -- and it largely does for high-school stuff. But then at the very end of their school journey comes this insurmountable test, which is totally unlike anything that they have seen in high school.


High school students study nothing but reading and numbers for 4 years. The SAT is no different from any other test they've taken. It's not that you can't study for the SAT, but rather all college bound kids have indirectly been studying for it for all 4 years of high school so any last minute cramming will have little effect. If you slacked off for all of high school, it's too late to start studying for the SAT in your final year.

Anonymous said...

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/1975/feb/06/fascinating-fascism/?pagination=false

"Triumph of the Will and Olympiad are undoubtedly superb films (they may be the two greatest documentaries ever made), but they are not really important in the history of cinema as an art form. Nobody making films today alludes to Riefenstahl, while many film makers (including myself) regard the early Soviet director Djiga Vertov as an inexhaustible provocation and source of ideas about film language. Yet it is arguable that Vertov—the most important figure in documentary films—never made a film as purely effective and thrilling as Triumph of the Will or Olympiad. (Of course Vertov never had the means at his disposal that Riefenstahl had. The Soviet government’s budget for propaganda films was less than lavish.) Similarly, The Last of the Nuba is a stunning book of photographs, but one can’t imagine that it could become important to other photographers, that it could change the way people see and photograph (as has the work of Weston and Walker Evans and Diane Arbus)."

Wow, talk about false prophecy.
While a Vertov film cracked the top ten in sight and sound film poll, the big blockbusters since the late 70s owe so much to Riefenstahl.

Steve Sailer said...

Movies are a lot more fascist-looking than in 1975. And note the ever present use of militaristic choral music like Carmina Burana (sp?) in movies in recent decades.

BB753 said...

OT: WWT is not a hype:
http://www.returnofkings.com/29416/5-ways-to-stop-omega-males-from-becoming-transsexuals

pulnimar said...

@Zorkmid

Your definition of rich is absurdly high ($550k one-time + $9.6k/month + +$1,950/hour-of-flight-time minimum for a minimum 50 hours/year NetJets share).

I'd define rich as anything over a $300k/year household income in all but the most expensive locales in the US.

As an adult now, I wish my parents had discussed household finances with me when I was a child.

pulnimar said...

Any ceiling or floor bumping going on here?

Are they using the median or the mean? It seems likely that the median would be the most telling figure, for a variety of reasons.

jeremiahjohnbalaya said...

I assumed the penalty for guessing is because knowing that you don't know the answer is smart

ben tillman said...

I'd define rich as anything over a $300k/year household income in all but the most expensive locales in the US.

What a pitiful attempt at a definition!

$150,000 is break-even. $300,000 means $7,500 in monthly disposable income. For one year. And who knows how much debt that disposable income has to pay off?

Here's a clue, pal -- "rich" is an adjective that relates to wealth, not income.

AnotherDad said...


This doesn't look very perplexing to me:

If you have fixed dollar buckets, then inflation or rising real incomes will drive down the score in each bucket, even while the test mean remains the same. (I.e. $100K is way less elite than it used to be ... $20K is more impoverished than it used to be.)

This is basically what you see--all the buckets down, ergo all closer together.

Then what is keeping the bottom buckets from dropping more, is that there are more low income Asian immigrants whose kids do relatively well. (Note it's the 20K math curve is the only curve that hasn't dropped.)

This effect is just literally "inflationary". (Inflationary in income, hence deflationary in score per income.) It doesn't tell you anything about whether the top 5%and bottom 5% in income are converging.



BurplesonAFB said...

Stereotype threat is always the answer, Steve.

It explains 100% of all SAT variance.

Just ask the Education Dept

Burpleson AFB said...

Also, I agree with steve that asking teenagers to self report this metric this is retarded.

pulnimar said...

"Here's a clue, pal -- "rich" is an adjective that relates to wealth, not income."

It's both. Wealth already has it's own adjective, "wealthy". Income needs one as well, and "rich" is a good enough one for high income.*

And yes, I am assuming that $300k/year income is relatively fixed (you aren't going to lose it next year, or the year after).

If $150k is break even, what the heck is my household with $40k? We break even every month.

* - just now, looking at the synonyms of wealthy that pop up on a google search, "prosperous" seems a pretty good one for income.

pulnimar said...

And again @Bill Tillman.

If an IQ of 2 S.D. + is going to be defined as gifted, then a household income of 2 S.D. + can be defined as rich.

Gene berman said...

pulnimar:

English is as it is, not just as you seem to wish it were.

As a generality, the terms "rich" and "wealthy" refer primarily to what a person possesses or has amassed (as opposed to what they have received in a particular period of time).

There are many who earn high amounts who never become "rich" or "wealthy," though their earnings may enable them to live, during those times, in a manner similar to those who are wealthy.
(And, similarly, there are those who are actually wealthy whose lifestyle expenditures are not unusually high.

Warren Buffett left Wall St. with $150K he'd managed to save thru several years as a stockbroker in '63 or so--nowhere near enough to have qualified him as "rich" or "wealthy,"--even back in those days. He bought a house for about $35K and lived rather modestly for a years while starting the investment vehicle that made him (and a fair few others) very
WEALTHY (or RICH) and, eventuially became rich through accumulation. Many, despite being high earners for quite some years, never actually become rich, even though they may have managed, during those years, to have lived pretty well.

If I were asked to define (in numbers) just what was meant by "rich" or "wealthy," I'd put it as an accumulated amount, which, invested in ordinary bank CDs or in tax-exempt securities, would generate an income of the size--perhaps $250K per year--that you seem to believe is, by itself, "rich."

Moreover, one of the reasons that many high earners never become rich is that they choose to use those earnings to live as though they were rich before actually becoming so. (That--and taxes!)