The Racial Gap on the SAT Writing Test

This is the fourth year that The College Board has offered the SAT writing test. On this test, students write a short essay on a topic decided by the test administrator. Many of the nation’s highest-ranked colleges and universities do not give much weight to the results of this test because they are skeptical of its predictive power to determine who will do well in college. Also, many test takers have been trained by coaching schools to “hijack” the writing subject assigned by adapting an essay already written before the test by the student or a parent.

Nevertheless, The College Board reports that blacks do slightly better on the writing portion of the test in relation to whites than they do on other sections of the SAT. In 2009 the mean score on the writing test for blacks was 421. This is 96 points below the mean score for whites. The racial gap on the writing test has actually widened by five points from 2006, when the writing portion of the test was first administered by The College Board.

Many observers believed that the introduction of the writing component would, by design, lessen the racial scoring gap in order to deflect criticism of The College Board. It is probable that in some instances the people who score the new writing section are able to detect the race of the writer by the vocabulary and subject matter of the student’s essay. There is then a suspicion in some quarters that the scorers of the test may be inclined to “give a break” to black students. Therefore, it is suggested that the examination is graded on a slight curve that benefits blacks and Hispanics.