A recent study by the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (USA) shows a clear correlation between students “aptitudes” – measured by the score in the SAT test – and their family’s income level. Indeed, the research denotes a clear increase in the test scores, for every topic being tested, as we move along the income distribution. Hence, a wealthier student, on average, does better than a poorer student and, therefore, that A on SAT not only stands for Aptitude but it may also stand for Affluence. (i)
Initially, the SAT test was called Scholastic Aptitude Test, but the name created a lot of controversy – scholastic means academic and aptitude stands for natural skills, and hence, some argued that the test “aimed” to check how prepared you were to succeed in the school environment, given your inherent skills only. This point of view completely neglects other variables as determinants of academic success and, after several changes throughout the years, the test is nowadays called SAT Reasoning Test (2004), where SAT stands for nothing at all (to avoid controversies), and the subjects tested are reading, mathematics, and writing. (ii) The test score is of particular relevance in the US, not only because college institutions widely use them in its admissions, but also because some employers still ask for the test results when one applies for a job.
Is there really a causal relation between the scores and parent’s income? To answer this question we would need the counterfactual event: what would the wealthier (poorer) kids grades be if they were less (more) wealthy?
On one hand, it is a fact that home environment is of great importance when we talk about academic success: children born into wealthier families (which are expected to be also more educated) are more likely to be exposed to a wider variety of realities and to receive moral support from their parents during their childhood. Thus, these students can focus right from infanthood on their studies and future, without distractions. Students from a poor background, on the other hand, have several distractions in the form of financial and social problems, and often do not have parents who can actively guide them and, as a consequence, may be less motivated to study. In fact, a very recent study shows that family is of particular importance when predicting education performance and future income. (iii) Furthermore, there are some studies which show that natural ability are correlated across generations, i.e., children whose parents are wealthier (and supposedly more educated and capable) are smarter than poorer background children. (iv)
Secondly, wealthier parents are able to pay for better schools, i.e., schools that provide better quality education to its students, and/or for additional tutoring after the school period. In fact, one of the reasons pointed out by the researchers to justify the gap is the ease by wealthier parents to pay for SAT preparation courses, although some research suggests that test preparation only rises math scores by 14-15 points and reading scores by 6-8 points, while the score gap is much bigger than this. Thus, although this is not the only reason behind the disparity, liquidity constraints are indeed a factor that may lead low educated parents (which are also expected to be more resource constrained) to underinvest in education.
Indeed, given these 2 reasons above, it is very likely that parent’s income has a causal impact on the children attainment in the SAT test. Bearing in mind the importance of the test results in the US, if there is indeed causality between income and SAT score, one concerning consequence of this asymmetric performance is that children from wealthier families are more likely to be admitted in college institutions, get a job and have higher income. All in all, there is a low opportunity cycle for those who are born into less wealthy families. In fact, some academic intellectuals, like Nicholas Lemann, argue that if the system continues to use the SAT score as an admission condition, low score students (which are, on average, more likely to come from poorer families) will perpetually be kept away from prominent careers and thus, incapable of leaving the poverty cycle. (v) Furthermore, creativity is not tested by the SAT and “numerical measurement isn’t the answer to everything in life,” Lemann says. By using the SAT score, the system is in a certain manner, supressing the creative/artistic thinking and, in fact, several art schools have already dropped the exam from its admissions. (vi)
All in all, family’s income is indeed a factor that seems to pre-determine student’s attainment in the SAT tests, leading to a concerning problem of a poverty cycle. Although the weight given to the results in these tests seems to be decreasing over time and despite the evidence that these tests don’t measure the whole range of a person’s ability, they are still very widely used. Is it prudent to use an Aptitude Test score as a determinant to a person’s whole future career (and generations)?
What Predicts a Successful Life? A Life-Course Model of Well-Being
(iv) See: Genetics of brain function and cognition – Eco J. C. de Geus, Margaret J.Wright, Nicholas G. Martin, Dorret I. Boomsma
David Dias Pissarra. 728