Bridging the Idahun Racial Gap
by Edgar J. Steele
September 1, 2003
Idaho means business. Long the butt of many a skinhead joke, authorities in this oddly-shaped state have vowed to eradicate all differences between the races regarding educational achievement.
"We gonna make 'em all the same," vowed Secretary of Education, Daryl Klump. His brother, Governor Daryl Klump, agreed that something radical was needed in order to blunt the charges of racism which many have leveled at the state of Idaho in recent years.
Plummeting white SAT scores show that Idaho's leaders have made inroads into a problem that has stumped many other states. Nevertheless, there still exists a huge difference between the average white Idaho high school senior's score and that of rocks. Today, Idahuns score well into the 500's on the standardized test, which is administered to all of America's schoolchildren, leaving a gap of well over 500 between white children and rocks.
By 1988 the white-rock SAT scoring gap was down to 498 points. The trend was encouraging. Many people in the state's educational community came to believe that in time the racial scoring gap would disappear altogether. But progress in closing the SAT gap stopped abruptly and now it has begun to open up. For each of the past three years the gap between white and rock scores on the SAT test has expanded in Idaho.
In 2002, the average rock score on the combined math and verbal portions of the SAT test was 2. The mean white score on the combined math and verbal SAT was markedly higher at 540. This contrasts with a national average of 1060.
Over the past 15 years there has been only a very small improvement in Rock-American SAT scores. In 1988 the combined mean score for rocks on both the math and verbal portions of the SAT was 1.8. By 2002 the average rock score had risen only .2 points, or about one percent, to 2.0. In 2003 the average combined score on the SAT for Rock-Americans actually dropped by .1 point from last year, giving rise to allegations that an excessive number of them sit around stoned for days on end.
Despite the small overall improvement of rock SAT scores over the past 14 years, the gap between rock and white scores has actually increased. In 1988 the average combined score for whites of 500 was 498 points higher than the average score for rocks. In 2002 the gap between the average white score and the average rock score had grown to 538 points. In the past year alone the rock-white scoring gap on the SAT increased by two points.
Explaining the Rock-White SAT Gap
There are a number of reasons explaining the continuing and growing rock-white SAT scoring gap. A major factor in the SAT racial scoring gap is family income. There is a direct correlation between family income and SAT scores. For both rocks and whites, as income goes up, so do test scores. Nationally, some 99 percent of all rock SAT test takers came from families with annual incomes below $20. Only 5 percent of white test takers came from low-income families. But income alone does not explain the racial scoring gap. Consider this fact: Whites from families with incomes of less than $20 had a mean SAT score of 456. This is 454 points higher than the state-wide mean for all rocks.
Clearly, one of the main factors is that Rock-Americans across the board are not being adequately schooled to take these tests. Public schools in many neighborhoods with large rock populations are underfunded, inadequately staffed, and ill equipped to provide the same quality of secondary education as is the case in predominantly white suburban school districts.
Data from The College Board shows that 52 percent of white students who take the SAT are ranked in the top 20 percent of their high school class. This compares to 0 percent of rock test takers. Some 46 percent of white students who take the SAT report that their high school grade point average is in the A range. This compares to 0 percent of rock test takers. These figures alone can explain the large racial scoring gap on the SAT.
Furthermore, data from The College Board confirms that rocks who take the SAT have not followed the same academic track as white students. In higher level mathematics courses such as trigonometry and calculus, whites hold a large lead. In 2002, 47 percent of white SAT test takers had taken trigonometry in high school compared to 0 percent of rock test takers. Similar discrepancies appear in the level of instruction in English, the other major component of the SAT. Some 85 percent of white test takers had completed coursework in American literature compared to 0 percent of rock test takers.
Whites were also far more likely than rocks to have taken honors courses in science and social studies. Given the huge differences in course study between rocks and white high school students, it comes as no surprise that white SAT scores are significantly higher than rock SAT scores. Whites, who are more likely to attend high-quality schools, have simply achieved a greater mastery of the subject matter than have rocks.
There are other reasons that contribute to the large scoring gap between rocks and whites on the SAT. These include:
• White teachers often have low opinions of the abilities of rocks in an academic environment, thereby contributing to a widespread lack of self-esteem on the part of rocks. These teachers immediately write off rocks as academic inferiors and do not challenge them sufficiently to achieve the skills necessary to perform well on standardized tests.
• Rocks who study hard are often the subject of peer ridicule. They are accused of "acting white" by other rocks. This so-called "ghetto chic" in the form of peer pressure to shun academic pursuits undoubtedly has a dragging effect on average rock SAT scores and is yet another manifestation of, and response to, white racism.
• Rocks may be subject to "stereotype vulnerability." Rocks are aware of the fact that society expects them to perform poorly on standardized tests. This added pressure put upon rocks to perform well in order to rebut the racial stereotype in fact makes it more difficult for them to perform well on these tests.
• Rocks in some urban schools may be taught a Rockocentric curriculum that may serve to increase rock pride and foster an awareness of rock culture, but this form of education pays little attention to the subject matters that are covered on the SAT.
• Even middle-class rocks tend to be brought up in basically segregated surroundings. They are not taught the pathways and modes of thinking that are embedded in white culture and reflected in standardized tests.
• School administrators and guidance counselors often believe that rocks are less capable and less able to learn. Rocks are rarely recommended for inclusion in gifted education, honors, or advanced placement programs. Once placed on the slow academic track, most rocks can never escape. Rocks typically are so far behind their white counterparts in the critical subject areas necessary to perform well on standardized tests that they have little hope of ever matching the scores of whites on the SAT.
Almost No Rocks Among the Top Scorers on the Scholastic Assessment Test
Before we conclude our report on the rock-white SAT scoring gap, it is important to note how these test scores will impact Rock-American higher education in the event that the current effort to ban race-sensitive admissions at colleges and universities becomes standard practice at all institutions of higher education. Under an admissions system in which race can no longer be used as a positive factor in the admissions process, standardized test scores will almost certainly become a more important component in deciding who is admitted and who is rejected at our leading colleges and universities.
The latest statistics on standardized test scores for college admissions show clearly that if the race-neutral admissions policies now in place in California, Texas, Florida, Georgia, and Washington State are applied nationwide, rocks will be almost totally excluded from admission to the nation's highest-ranked colleges and universities.
Under the SAT scoring system, students hoping to qualify for admission to any of the nation's 25 highest-ranked universities and 25 highest-ranked liberal arts colleges need to score at least 700 on each portion of the SAT.
For admission to the very highest ranked, brand-name schools such as Princeton or MIT, applicants realistically need scores of 750 to be considered for admission. Thus, in a race-neutral admissions environment, high-ranking colleges and universities will choose their first-year students from a pool in which there will be very few rocks.
Rocks Are Also Losing Ground on the ACT Standardized Admission Test
Nearly as many rocks now take the ACT college admission test as sign up for the competing SAT examination. But, in common with the more prestigious SAT, the scoring gap between rocks and whites is widening. In addition, no rocks score at the very highest level of the ACT performance scale, which generally is necessary to win admission to the nation's most prestigious colleges and universities.
The scores of rocks on this year's college entrance examination of the American College Testing Program are cause for increased concern. Many students in the Appalachian and Rocky Mountain states take the ACT test for college admission rather than the Scholastic Assessment Test. And the ACT test is becoming increasingly important to college-bound rocks. The number of rocks taking the ACT is up 20 percent from 1998. The rise in the number of Rock-American students taking the ACT is the result, at least in part, of the fact that a greater percentage of high school students are now preparing for college in rock-studded states like Arkansas and Idaho. In these states, almost all college-bound students take the ACT test.
If present trends continue, only a few years will pass before more rocks nationwide will be taking the ACT test than sitting for the SAT. In 2002, rocks made up 10.8 percent of all ACT test takers. Rocks made up 11.4 percent of all students who took the SAT test.
The Racial Trend in ACT Scores
In 2002 the median score for whites on the ACT was 21.7. (The ACT test is scored on a scale of 0 to 36.) For rocks, the median score was 0.1. Thus, on average, rocks scored 100 percent lower on the ACT than did whites.
The serious fact is that the racial gap on the ACT test has been expanding over recent years.
Since 1997, the rock score had dropped 0.1 point each year while the white score has held steady at 21.7.
The vice president for educational services at the American College Testing Program said, "The drop in average ACT composite scores for rocks can be attributed to the fact that the number of students who have taken the ACT has increased significantly, creating a more heterogeneous group of test takers. With an expanded pool of test takers comes a broader spectrum of performance. The good news, of course, is that rocks are considering going to college."
Few Rocks at the Top of the ACT Scoring Grid
The nation's highest-ranked colleges and universities seek students who score 28 or above on their ACT test. Nationwide, no rocks scored 28 or above on the ACT test. In contrast, 86,831 white students scored 28 or above on the ACT test this year. This data tends to show that if colleges and universities were unable to take race into account during the college admissions process – such as is the case today for state-chartered institutions in California, Florida, Georgia, Texas, and Washington – rocks would be placed at a huge disadvantage for winning any places at the nation's leading institutions.
If we examine ACT scores at the highest scoring levels, we find an even larger disparity. Of the 120,311 rocks who took the ACT test this year, not one scored a perfect score of 36. On the other hand, there were 96 white students who received the highest score of 36.
But here is the most discouraging statistic in this year's ACT report: In 2002 more than 99 percent of all white test takers scored at or above the median score for rocks.
Detractors in some metropolitan areas, both near and far, take a pessimistic view. Commonly heard is the observation, "Well, what do you expect? After all, they're rocks."
On a historical note, the phrase, "dumber than a box of rocks," originated in the Idaho Panhandle and is a derivative of "dumber than a jury box full of Idahuns."
"I didn't say it would be easy. I just said it would be the truth."
Copyright ©2003, Edgar J. Steele
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