Study: SAT scores a good indicator of academic success for black students

Data could support affirmative action policies

New research finds the SAT is a significantly stronger predictor of academic success in college for black students than whites or Latinos, reports Jeff Guo for the Washington Post.

In a working paper released by the Institute for the Study of Labor (ISL), three researchers at Texas universities examined the relationship between standardized test performance and college GPA among students who graduated from a Texas public school and then attended one of the state's public universities.

Details of the study

In Texas, students who graduate in the top 10% of their high school class are automatically accepted to any of the state's public universities. Since standardized testing plays no part in selecting that group of students, researchers could isolate how well test scores predicted academic success. Researchers also controlled for other factors, such as students' majors.

The researchers found a one standard-deviation increase in SAT scores was associated with a 0.347-point rise in GPA among white students. However, among black students, the rise in GPA was higher—with a similar increase in SAT scores correlating to a 0.499-point bump. Latino students fared about the same regardless of SAT score.

In short, when it came to predicting college success, the SAT was a more valid measure for black applicants than for applicants of other races.

Study co-author Jane Arnold Lincove, from the University of Texas, hypothesizes that the SAT is less predictive for white students because they are more likely to use test prep resources. Students who take a test prep class are more likely to perform well, even if their academic abilities are lagging. But that bump in test score is somewhat artificial—it does not lead to higher grades in the rest of the student's academic career.

Three colleges innovating with holistic admissions

The data could have interesting implications for the affirmative action debate. The authors point out that the more holistic assessments used in affirmative-action admissions policies "would enable a more accurate assessment of student potential for success than a process based on a single set of objective criteria applied across racial groups" (Guo, Washington Post, 1/6).


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