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Achievement Gaps
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What are the Achievement Gaps?

  1. Achievement Gap in Race

    1. Black Students

College Performance and Wages: How Do Black and White Test Scores Relate?

How does the difference between black and white student test scores relate to college admission, college grades, and later wages? Two researchers review the research.

Citation:
This reports some of the ideas and findings from the following source:

Jencks, C., & Phillips, M. (1998). The black-white test score gap: An introduction. In C. Jencks and M. Phillips (Eds.),The black-white test score gap(pp. 1-51). Washington, DC: Brookings Institution.

To see other reports that originated from this same citation, go to the bibliography.

Scholars Christopher Jencks and Meredith Phillips say that they acknowledge that there is a difference between test scores for black and white students in primary and secondary education. But, they ask, how does this difference relate to students' college academic performance and wages later in life?

Specifically, they look at three questions:

  1. How does the black-white test score gap affect students' abilities to get into elite colleges?
  2. How do black students who get into elite colleges perform?
  3. How do black and white students' test scores in adolescence relate to later wage levels?

How Are Test Scores Related to College Admissions?

Because black students tend not to perform academically as well as white students, if colleges only admitted students in the top of their high school class, they would have a very small proportion of black students. Jencks and Phillips say that since the late 1960s, selective colleges began using race as a factor when considering admission. According to one study, in 1982 selective colleges were as likely to admit a black student with a B+ average and an SAT score of 1100 as they were to admit a white student with an A- average and an SAT score of 1300.

In the mid-1990s, things changed. A number of states began to exclude race as a factor to consider for admissions. Proponents of "color blind" admissions argue that giving weight to race is unfair to whites and Asian-Americans. They also suggest that minority students given preference at selective colleges would probably perform better at less-selective colleges. Jencks and Phillips do not believe that there is evidence to support this, however.

How Are Test Scores Related to College Performance?

Jencks and Phillips also look at studies of how black students perform during college. Specifically, they look at two questions:

  1. Do students with the same SAT scores perform better or worse at elite versus less-selective colleges?
  2. How do black students at elite schools perform?
  • Performance at elite versus less-selective colleges. One study found that students with the same SAT scores who attend selective colleges tend to make the same grades as students who attend less-selective colleges. The study also found that students who attended selective colleges were more likely to graduate. So, black students who attend the most selective colleges do not appear to do worse than black students who attend less-selective colleges.
  • Grades at elite colleges. Jencks and Phillips say that a number of studies have found that black students tend to make lower grades than their white peers with the same SAT scores and high school grades. Oddly, one study of elite schools found that the greatest black-white grade differences existed between students with high SAT scores. According to Jencks and Phillips, "Elite colleges apparently have particular difficulty engaging their most promising black students" (p. 39).Jencks and Phillips say that this finding might be explained by the fact that black students tend to socialize with other black students (who tend to have lower grades).

How Are Test Scores Related to Wages?

Jencks and Phillips say that the relationship between test scores and raceas it relates to wagesdiffers dramatically for women and men.

  • Women. When comparing black and white women with the same test scores in adolescence, one study found that black women tend to work 15% more hours and earn 5% more an hour than white women.
  • Men. When comparing black and white men with the same test scores in adolescence, black men tend to work 20% fewer hours and earn 9% less an hour.

Jencks and Phillips speculate on possible reasons for these differences:

  • Perhaps employers prefer black women to white women with the same test scores.
  • Perhaps these findings are a product of sampling error.
  • Perhaps black women work more because black men work less, earn less, and are less likely to live with their children.
  • Perhaps employers have more negative stereotypes of black men than black women.
  • Perhaps black men are less willing than black women to take low-wage jobs.

Jencks and Phillips offer these as possible explanations, but they do not provide any evidence to explain racial differences in wages in relation to test scores.

Research Design: Authors Christopher Jencks and Meredith Phillips review theories and research on the black-white test score gap. They also comment on effects of the gap and what might be done to narrow the gap.

 



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