September 15, 2011

SAT score changes by race since 1996

The oldest SAT score report on the College Board website is from 1996, right after the "recentering" in 1995 that raised scores about 100 points on a 400 to 1600 scale. Over the last 15 years, the average overall score on the original two-part Verbal + Math SAT (i.e., ignoring the new-fangled Writing section of the test introduced in the last decade) fell a grand total of two points, from 1013 to 1011. (See what I mean about baseball statistics being more volatile?)

1996 v. 2011 College-Bound Seniors Avg SAT Scores

Total (V+M)


1996 2011 Chg 1996 2011 Chg 1996 2011 Chg
ALL 1013 1011 (2) 505 497 (8) 508 514 6
Female 995 995 0 503 495 (8) 492 500 8
Male 1034 1031 (3) 507 500 (7) 527 531 4
Asian 1054 1112 58 496 517 21 558 595 37
White 1049 1063 14 526 528 2 523 535 12
Black 856 855 (1) 434 428 (6) 422 427 5
AmerIndian 960 972 12 483 484 1 477 488 11
Mexican 914 917 3 455 451 (4) 459 466 7
PR 897 904 7 452 452 0 445 452 7
Other Hisp 931 913 (18) 465 451 (14) 466 462 (4)

You'll note that the average white score went up 14 points form 1049 to 1063. Did white people get smarter over that period? I don't know. The SAT changed a lot over those 15 years, with analogies being dropped and some Verbal multiple choice questions being exiled to Writing. Also, kids appear to have cared more about prepping in 2011, although the College Board doesn't like to talk about this.

Asians went up 58 points, which is pretty striking. Everybody else fell farther behind whites, which wasn't supposed to happen.

Now, it could be that scores actually did pretty well over this 15 year stretch, because the College Board scraped the bottom of the barrel harder. In 1996, 1,085,000 college-bound seniors took the SAT. In 2011, there were 1,647,000 senior SAT-takers. Just between 2006 and 2011, the College Board let an incremental 150,000 students take the SAT free or at reduced cost.

On the other hand, my impression is that it became a lot more common for students to take both the SAT and ACT over that 15-year stretch, so some of the increase in the number of test-takers comes from people who would only have taken the ACT in 1996. It used to be that East and West Coasters took the SAT and Midwesterners the ACT, but by 2011, lots of students try both to see which one they'll do better on. These kids who take both tests probably tend to be fairly ambitious ones who are looking to game the system by taking both tests, then submitting only the test score they did better upon. So, double-dippers likely scored reasonably well (although, of course, not so 2400 / 36 outstanding that they wouldn't bother taking any test again).

(Has anybody recently done an authoritative study of the trend in overall SAT scores considering all the factors driving scores up or down?)

Between 1996 and 2011, everybody except Other Hispanics got a little better in Math. (I suspect that Other Hispanics used to be mostly Cubans and random fairly well-to-do South Americans, but now it includes a lot of Central Americans.) But Asians got a lot better: 37 points, from 558 to 595.

Verbal scores stagnated or declined slightly, except for Asians, who went up 21 points from 496 to 517. 

Now, let's look at scores relative to the white scores in 1996 and 2011. A decade and a half ago, the overall score for everybody was 36 points lower than the white score. Today, it's 52 points lower. Most of that 16 points of relative decline is due to the demographic composition of America's SAT-takers changing for the worse.

Difference v. whites

Total (V+M)

1996 2011 Chg
ALL 36 52 (16)
Female 54 68 (14)
Male 15 32 (17)
Asian 5 49 44
White 0 0 0
Black 193 208 (15)
AmerIndian 89 91 (2)
Mexican 135 146 (11)
PR 152 159 (7)
Other Hisp 118 150 (32)

The Gap got worse for most of the minority groups that the press gets worked up over. Blacks fell from 193 points behind whites to 208 points (a 15 point relative decline, or a point per year). Mexicans fell from 135 lower to 146 lower. Other Hispanics fell the most, from 118 behind to 150 behind.

These declines are probably mostly due to society (especially the College Board) scraping the bottom of the barrel harder in 2011. What with the recession and all, everybody is convinced that they must go to college, so they try the SAT. The number of people who scored below 400 on Verbal grew from 179,000 to 302,000 and on Math from 172,000 to 251,000.

The number who scored 700 or higher also shot upwards, but that might be due in part to kids taking the SAT more times or taking both the SAT and ACT to see if they can shoot the moon. The number scoring 700 or higher on Verbal went up from 47,000 to 77,000 and on Math from 58,000 to 112,000. High scorers are presumably the most likely to do a lot of test prep and otherwise try to game the system.

In contrast to all other ethnic groups, who fell farther behind whites over the last 15 years, Asians had a 5 point advantage over whites in 1996, which blossomed to a 49 point lead by 2011, a relative change of 44 points.That's a big change, relative to the near-stasis on everything else.


Antioco Dascalon said...

As a test prep instructor, I can say that the key to the SAT math is drill. There are not that may concepts and they are not too difficult but you have to be fast and accurate. Asians are notoriously good at drill.
But the verbal increase is more striking (10 times the white increase, whereas the Asian math increase is only 3 times the white increase). Reading and writing are tough to cram and depend mainly on having a good ear. I would guess that a lot of the improvement in the past 15 years come from the fact that a much, much larger fraction of Asians taking the SAT are native speakers and even children of native speakers so that they have developed good ears. For example, if their parents consistently say "me and him went to the store" for decades it is difficult to correct the student a few weeks before the test. I think this is why black reading/writing is so bad--the grammar in the black community is definitely non-standard.

nooffensebut said...

“In contrast to all other ethnic groups, who fell farther behind whites over the last 15 years, Asians had a 5 point advantage over whites in 1996, which blossomed to a 49 point lead by 2011…”

Yes, even though their increased participation outpaced that of whites throughout that period. Murray and Herrnstein accessed the full records going back to 1976. They said that standard deviations by race only started being listed in 1980, and I do not think Murray and Herrnstein used pooled variance for Cohen’s d comparisons. In 1980 (I think, as there was some ambiguity in the text), Asians had an average math score of 509 (86 points lower than now!) and an average verbal score of 396. Black people had an average verbal score of 330 (98 points lower than now!), which was 1.16 standard deviations lower than whites. Their math score was 1.27 standard deviations lower. Hence, Murray and Herrnstein were impressed that black people made so much progress, but that came to a halt after The Bell Curve was published. I am trying to request the older reports, and I would be happy to share them.

nooffensebut said...

I should mention that the study by Sackett and Shen lists the black-white and Hispanic-white gaps in terms of Cohen’s d going back to 1987, which I graphed on my blog for the black-white gap.

panjandrum said...

Off topic, but I was listening to NPR about the wealth gap. Such a big fuss, all of this; it seems to preoccupy the whole culture, and no-one but iSteve is saying the obvious. Whites are still a majority, things have to break your way eventually. Too bad there isn't a better way for you to capitalize on it /right now/.

We need a new way of seeing / framing things, such that the biological truth can be openly expressed + tolerated. Or even just internally accepted, even if still talked around. I suppose /something/ must and will change as the racial, genetic effect is made too clear, or, the rigidity of enforcement (discrimination by outcome) causes it to reach evident ridiculousness and breaks.

But maybe I'm assuming people in goodwill truly believe that all races have the same potential, and aren't just fanatically sticking harder to orthodoxy as the doubt grows.

Gilbert Ratchet said...

"the grammar in the black community is definitely non-standard"

So in other words, The Test Is Racist (tm).

Anonymous said...

"These kids who take both tests probably tend to be fairly ambitious ones who are looking to game the system by taking both tests, then submitting only the test score they did better upon."

Not quite. Ambitious students are searching nationawide and applying to way more colleges, then rank ordering the ones they get admitted to based on the US News and World Report ratings. Largely, it's the relentless pursuit of prestige by Chinese students driving this. A white student is likely to accept the fact fairly early in his high school career that he isn't Ivy material, or decide that the odds are too long to be bothered applying if he is in only the top 2 percentile, but not Chinese kids.

With 2100 SAT scores Chinese kids will apply to every last Ivy League school and all the second tier schools to boot. If your kid only went to the University of Illinois, your Chinese neighbors will endlessly brag to you about how their kid got into Macalester College. I know, it's pretty stupid but in a culture of a billion people who mostly look alike and live crammed together in shoe box size apartments, every jot and tittle of prestige in a resume may mean the difference between being big boss or having someone's boot on your neck. To the Chinese education = prestige = influence = money = happiness, which is easy to understand in a place where middle class really means the top 5%.

But now that immigration and affirmative action have destroyed an easygoing, sheltered middle class lifestyle as a white American birthright, you will see white kids acting increasingly like asians.

slumber_j said...

There are a lot more second-generation, native-English-speaking Asian-Americans than there used to be. That would help on the Verbal, no?

bbartlog said...

The large number of high scorers is frankly suspicious, at least as regards the claim that the test is the same difficulty over the time span in question. I suspect that the test has been getting easier and that the (rather small, really) declines you see for some groups are just a residual. Of course the guys who design the tests know, but they aren't talking.

Polistra said...

The Asian verbal increase may arise from a change in the nationality mix of immigrants who count as Asian. From Census charts it appears that Indian immigration has increased much faster than Chinese or Korean over the last 20 years. Indians already speak something resembling English.

Piper said...

This trend will provoke a counterblast of discrimination against asians and whites in college admissions. Watch-- the odds ratios for admission by race of applicant will move in inverse relation to SAT score achievement by race.

The College Board's barrel-scraping is making things worse. Too many college admissions staffers think they have a duty to compensate for disparity in qualifications by race. When they read that minority scores are falling (and asian scores rising) relative to whites, admissions staffers will try to "fix" the situation by favoring low-scoring NAM applicants over high-scoring applicants, even though from a neutral viewpoint that is perverse. If the College Board didn't recruit so many unqualified test-takers, the statistical disparities wouldn't look so bad and the admissions staffers would calm down a bit.

Anonymous said...

I've got those pictures of "whites" posted at Vdare in my mind.

For purposes of low IQ are some folks that might not be thought of as white treated as if they were white.

The whole if one is a perp, he is white, and if one is a victim, he is some kind of "other".

Steve any chance that you could require those of us posting as Anon... give some kind of ID.


alexis said...

Ever notice why state tests are always changing, reconfiguring, etc? hard to draw patterns when you can't keep a baseline. Wonder why?

poolside said...

Students today definitely take the SAT multiple times in an attempt to maximize their scores.

I've known kids who started taking the test in their freshmen year so they can get used to it.

Most kids at my high school in the '70s took the test just once.

Anonymous said...

"I think this is why black reading/writing is so bad--the grammar in the black community is definitely non-standard."

Well, blacks do even worse on the math part than on the verbal part.

Maya said...

It would be interesting to see SAT gender gaps by race. Since the SAT math doesn't go beyond what a typical middle class East Asian would study in the 9th grade and is, mostly, a matter of practice for those who are able to understand it, is the Asian gender gap significantly narrower than the white gender gap? Since alcoholism affects men earlier in life (or used to, at least), is the Amerindian gender gap narrower?

jody said...

still gotta break the "asian" category out into groups to see who is doing what. there are easily as many flips as koreans, so they would offset, leaving the chinese to have most of the net positive effect. nammers and thais would probably offset too but with more moderate effects alone. indians and pakistanis would offset.

it's kind of interesting the participation rate went up and "white" performance still went up slightly. since lots of non-europeans are in the "white" category now, and their proportion of the "white" category grows every year, this probably means the test taking performance of actual europeans went up a little more than the numbers indicate. the population of ashkenazi jewish kids is declining, so they're having less effect on this category over time as well. not that they ever had some huge effect, being perhaps 3% of the people counted in the category. today the amount of people who are not european but count as "white" is probably 10%, conservatively. every 9/11 terrorist, for instance, was "white" according to the US government.

jody said...

"It would be interesting to see SAT gender gaps by race."

along the same lines, i've proposed bizarre HBD contests on here before. for instance, could a group of random chinese women outwork, outconstruct, and outengineer a group of random mestizo men? the mean group IQ difference is between 15 and 20 points according to the evidence we have, yet men are natural builders and constructors.

how much IQ would be required to overcome the natural instincts and abilities men have to build and contruct, versus women's complete lack of any instincts or ability for that kind of thing on average? "He's handy" is a description you hear of guys who have even below average brainpower - you never hear that about even a brilliant woman.

Dennis, Not Old or a Lady said...

These widening racial gaps are a sad reminder how far we as a society have yet to go to build a fair and just society.

Whatever self-esteem, diversity and other PC educational movements have been implemented over the pa


Mitch said...

It's a mix of things.

First, the 2005 changes made the math subject material easier, but an actual high score became harder because there were fewer hard problems and the impact of "unforced errors" became higher. Kids who were bright but careless could get a high score because the occasional unforced error was wiped out and more with their performance on the high difficulty questions. That last sentence describes whites more than Asians.

So since 2005, the ability to nail every question and not make unforced errors--something that drill does, indeed, help--has been rewarded, whereas the number of creatively difficult problems is 0 or 1 per test. This hurts white students, on average, more than Asian students just by personality trait, and then the Asian tendency to drill for this test gives even more of an advantage.

The reading test has been made unequivocally easier. I'm not sure what you mean about some reading questions being moved to the writing section. This is not true. The writing test is a near-exact replica of the old English Composition Achievement test, or the English Writing Subject test. There were no changes to it at all from a content perspective--they just changed the type of essay prompt and reduced the number of questions.

Certainly, the easier reading test makes it easier for Asians to get high scores. The writing test rewards attention to detail above all.

So the test changes play a part, both in how they reward the traits more likely to be in asians over whites, and then in the Asian prep ritual--which really has to be seen to be believed. I teach in these schools, and the kids are in prep taking tests for 2 years. Even the ones who aren't getting super high scores are getting better scores, and that's bumping the average up.

Then there's the fact that Koreans, Chinese, and Indians are immigrating here in huge numbers, which is presumably offsetting the once larger percentage of Filipinos and Tongans.

I'm assuming you were only looking at US students, right? Koreans in Korea are taking the test as well, and there they study 40-60 hours a week, instead of school. The prep schools there buy copies of the most recent tests from students and use the tests to prep their students (something that's frowned upon here, although not technically illegal). The kids learn how to write essays by rote, and have whole essays memorized (use this essay for "change", this one for "education", and so on).

Anonymous said...

"Ever notice why state tests are always changing, reconfiguring, etc? hard to draw patterns when you can't keep a baseline. Wonder why?"

The testing companies are staffed by euro whites who love change and innovation.

That is why there is still one orthodox church in the east, but in the west there are thousands of little denominations.