Can the “Obama Effect” Help Eliminate the Black-White Scoring Gap on Standardized Tests?

Obviously, the election of Barack Obama as president of the United States was a source of tremendous pride for the nation’s 38 million African Americans. But researchers have found that Obama’s success may also produce concrete advances in black academic progress.

The study involved the administering of a 20-question test given to black and white college students. The questions were taken from the verbal section of the Graduate Record Examination. The results showed the usual black-white scoring gap when the test was given prior to Obama’s nomination. But when the test was given right after Obama’s nomination and immediately after the presidential election, the racial scoring gap disappeared. The authors of the study concluded that Obama’s success helped blacks overcome anxieties about racial stereotypes that had lowered their test-taking proficiency. Ray Friedman, professor at the Owen Graduate School of Management at Vanderbilt University and lead author of the study, stated, “Our results document compelling evidence of the power that real-world, in-group role models like Obama can have on members of their racial or ethnic community.”

The results of the study are intriguing and we at JBHE hope that indeed President Obama will inspire the young generation of African Americans to academic achievement. But the sample size of this study is so small (a total of 84 black test takers) that the results must be viewed with skepticism.

Also, a reduction in racial stereotype text anxiety can only do so much. The vast racial differences in educational preparation, access to coaching and tutoring services, and other factors will still produce a standardized test scoring gap for many years to come, regardless of the level of success of an Obama presidency.