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Race, Poverty and SAT Scores: Modeling the Influences of Family Income on Black and White High School Students’ SAT Performance


by Ezekiel J. Dixon-Román, Howard T. Everson & John J. McArdle — 2013

Background: Educational policy makers and test critics often assert that standardized test scores are strongly influenced by factors beyond individual differences in academic achievement such as family income and wealth. Unfortunately, few empirical studies consider the simultaneous and related influences of family income, parental education, and high school achievement on college admissions test scores.

Focus Of Study: This research was animated by the nagging question of the association of family income with SAT performance. For example, is the relationship between family income and SAT performance non-linear? Does the relationship differ markedly by race? More importantly, how strong are the effects of poverty on SAT performance?

Research Design: This study is a secondary analysis of a large national sample of Black and White college-bound high school students who took the SAT in 2003 (N = 781,437).

Data Collection And Analysis: Employing data from the College Board’s Student Descriptive Questionnaire, this study used structural equation modeling (SEM) to estimate the effects of family income on SAT scores for Black and White examinees accounting for the simultaneous effects of parental education and high school achievement.

Findings/Results: Results suggest the effects of family income on SAT scores, though relatively modest in contrasts to high school achievement, are substantial, non-linear, and nearly twice as large for Black students. Moreover, the unstandardized direct effect of high school achievement on SAT performance is not enough to address the substantial effects of poverty for Black students.

Conclusions/Recommendations: The findings are discussed with respect to social inequality and educational opportunity in college admissions.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 115 Number 4, 2013, p. 1-33
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16925, Date Accessed: 10/25/2014 9:51:34 PM

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About the Author
  • Ezekiel Dixon-Román
    University of Pennsylvania
    E-mail Author
    EZEKIEL J. DIXON-ROMÁN is an Assistant Professor of Social Policy and Education in the School of Social Policy & Practice at the University of Pennsylvania. His research is on the intersections of the sociology of education, cultural studies, and quantitative methods. In addition to his edited volume, Thinking Comprehensively About Education (with Edmund W. Gordon, Routledge, 2012), he is writing a single-authored volume tentatively titled Inheriting [Im]Possibility.
  • Howard Everson
    City University of New York
    E-mail Author
    HOWARD T. EVERSON is Professor of Psychology and Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in Education, Graduate School, City University of New York. Professor Everson’s research and scholarly interests focus on the intersection of cognition and assessment. He has published and contributed to developments in educational psychology, psychometrics, and quantitative methods.
  • John McArdle
    University of Southern California
    E-mail Author
    JOHN J. (JACK) MCARDLE is Senior Professor of Psychology at the University of Southern California where he heads the Quantitative Methods training program. His research has been focused on age-sensitive methods for psychological and educational measurement and longitudinal data analysis including publications in factor analysis, growth curve analysis, and dynamic modeling of adult cognitive abilities. He is now writing a book on longitudinal structural equation modeling with J.R. Nesselroade (APA Books, 2013).
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