Rallying Around Education
The headline, “Minority Test Takers Make Significant Gains on SAT” sounds like pretty positive news. And it is, kind of. However, a closer look at the numbers reveals that African Americans still score the lowest on the standardized test among all racial and ethnic groups.
Barely seeing their scores rise from year to year, Black students’ average verbal score this year actually dipped one point over last year’s, and their average math score was up one point. A comparison of average math and verbal SAT scores from 10 years ago show that Black students’ average verbal score has only increased by two points — since 1994 — and math scores are up by six. However, other minority groups, Asian Americans, Puerto Ricans, American Indians, have made double-digit gains on either the math or verbal sections or both during the 10-year period.
I’ve never been a big fan of standardized tests, but the majority of colleges and universities still require either SAT or ACT scores for college admission. And since the college application process is only becoming more competitive, it’s time for Black students to get real about these tests. Granted, there are factors that contribute to the overall poor performance of Blacks students on SAT-like exams that they have no control over. But there are factors that students can control such as taking the exam seriously and taking advantage of test prep courses. I’m not talking about the review courses for which students pay a thousand dollars. I’m referring to the sessions that many high schools offer for free or for a nominal fee to their students. I know for a fact that many Black students do not even attend these types of courses when available.
In conjunction with the release of this year’s SAT scores, the College Board also reported a gap in course-taking patterns between White students and students from other racial and ethnic groups. For
example, 31 percent and 13 percent of African American students take pre-calculus and calculus respectively during high school, the lowest percentage of all racial and ethnic groups. But through no fault of their own, many minority students attend schools where advanced math and English courses are not offered, so these students are already at a disadvantage in terms of test preparation even before they sign up for the SAT.
A recent report by a UCLA professor Michael Stoll titled, “African Americans and the Color Line,” concludes that African Americans still have a long way to go to achieve equality in America. And education always plays a role. Some of his findings: Employment and wages improved very little relative to Whites from 1990-2000, despite the economic boom of the late 1990s; African American wealth grew very little, while wealth for Whites grew markedly during the 1990s; and the percentage of Black men in prison doubled from 1980-2000.
Discouraging findings I know, but on the flip side, we report throughout the year the many wonderful things scholars of color and other higher education professionals are doing every day. Most of the Black Issues readership and those that we feature are high-achievers, but we must not forget that there is a segment of our community that is struggling just to make it through elementary and high school. Suffering through a Ph.D. program would be considered a luxury (although according to some of our readers and members of our editorial staff, maybe not).
In any case, this edition’s “Last Word” addresses the issue of getting Black students and their parents — at all socio-economic levels — more engaged and taking a more active role in the education of young people. This is truly the only way we’ll see an improvement in the academic performance of African American students.
Hilary Hurd Anyaso
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