• Riya Patel

Gaps in Standardized Test Scores due to Race

According to Reeves, and senior fellow in Economic Studies and co-director of the Center on Children and Families focusing on social mobility and equality, “The extensive racial gaps in academic achievement and college preparation across high school seniors are symptomatic of those deeper drivers of inequality.” He highlights this sad reality of the racial differences and inequalities evident in many things including standardized test scores. This issue goes beyond academic testing and seeps into everyone’s daily lives. Researchers have been studying the cause of this gap and why it is so prevalent. They have looked at the economic, social and cultural aspects of both whites and blacks to find causes of the gap. Of course, this is not applicable to everyone, there are exceptions; but it does portray the majority of the population, nationwide.  This country has come a long way since slavery and segregation laws, but racism is still present in issues like our national anthem controversy and the Confederate statue controversy, plaguing the young and reinforcing it in the elders. The progression of African American’s standardized test scores has been changing significantly and will continue to progress in the future.  


There is a significant difference in the scores of standardized tests in the black population and white population. In 1970, the gap was much more prominent, according to Jencks and Phillips. “It has narrowed since 1970, but the typical American black still scores below 75 percent of American whites on almost every standardized test.” Along with the progression of racial equality, the gap has been decreasing over time, getting smaller and smaller each year.  However, it can be seen in the statistics that there is a huge difference between the ways whites score and the ways black score on standardized tests, like the SAT. This gap is not just in standardized test scores; it is seen in reading levels, IQ tests and grades in schools. Another statistic states, according to The National Assessment of Educational Progress, the gap in reading levels has closed almost two-fifths between 1971 to 1994 (Jencks, Phillips).  


Many people, including researchers, understand there is a gap, but fail to comprehend why or what is causing it. They have explored ideas like cultural poverty and single motherhood.  They have concluded that cultural poverty might have some role in the score gap. Also, according to Jencks and Phillips, the majority of single mothers come from low-income families, suffering from chronic poverty and therefore have lower test scores.  Previously, the gap was thought to be because of segregation and lack of economic wealth so blacks could not provide an adequate education. There was a difference in resources that the blacks and white received during the 19th and 20th century, but now there is a very little difference between resources given.  That has now been disproven because many black affluent families have children who are still behind in test scores than affluent whites’ children. Now, one reason for the gap may be the influence of the parents and the home environment. “A good explanation of why white five-year-olds have larger vocabularies than black five-year-olds is likely to focus on how much the parents talk to their children, how they deal with their children’s questions, and how they react when their children either learn or fail to learn something, not on how much money the parents have.” Successful theories will not focus much on the economic gap, but more of the cultural and psychological influence.  Environments at home and the amount that parents push the kid academically are more influential on the scores of their children, therefore, affecting the gap.


If the gap continues to progress in the current pattern, the gap will gradually lessen and promote racial equality.  The trend is that the scores of blacks are rising, not the whites’ scores falling. However, it is not an overnight process and requires work from both whites and blacks. This could eventually lead to more equality in the college admission process and job hirings. There are many ways to potentially close the gap, that would benefit both blacks and whites.  It has been proven that kids learn and perform better in smaller classes, so an easy solution would be to decrease class size across the board.  Also, increasing a teacher’s expectations of lower performing kids and motivating them to do better, will start the process of self-motivation.  Self-motivation is the key to success and the only way to decrease the gap is the students want to. Other researchers believe it is the fault of the creators of the standardized tests, making the test racially bias.  They believe that College Board purposely manipulates the test to make certain races perform better than others.  College board does not release information about race/ethnicity and their performance of tests, and there could be a lot going on behind their closed doors.


Over time, black students’ test scores have been rising and they will continue to progress, closing the gap and reaching toward racial equality. Making our way to racial equality, we will ensure justice for everyone in all aspects of life, including social, economics and education.  Minimizing the racial gap with standardized test scores will lead to an equal opportunity in college admissions and occupations in the future. Surroundings of students and their upbringing is one of the most influential factors on the standardized test scores; the differences among races’ upbringing is one of the major causes for the gap between the scores on standardized tests between blacks and whites. Minimizing the gap is going to require the work of both races but it can be done and will benefit everyone and ensure racial equality.

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