Black On Campus
Higher Education and the African American Experience

Black Kids Who Do Well on the SAT: A Profile

September 26th, 2008 by Ajuan Mance

It’s college application time. High school seniors are gathering teacher recommendations, ordering copies of their high school transcripts, and writing and re-writing their personal statements. Woe be unto those young men and women who are trying to squeeze in one last turn on the S.A.T., in time to beat the deadline (and meet the average score) of their first-choice school.

To commemorate this exciting period time in the lives of our college-bound seniors, I offer you these highlights from an article published in the October 1, 1998 issue of the Journal of Blacks in Higher Education (JBHE). “How Did They Do That?” by Karin Chenoweth describes the findings of a joint Mellon Foundation – Urban Institute study of African American students who earned high scores on the S.A.T. Here are some of the most interesting points, quoted directly from the JBHE article (to read the entire article, click HERE):

  • high-scoring African American students have fewer advantages than their White counterparts. They are also more likely to come from families with lower incomes and with fewer college degrees than Whites with similar scores.
  • although the biggest concentration of Blacks with high scores attend school in the close-in suburbs of large cities, in general high-scoring Black students are much more likely than their White peers to attend school in central cities — where educational opportunities are often more limited than in the suburbs.
  • Dr. Linda Darling-Hammond, professor at Stanford University’s School of Education explains that the data contradict the idea of the level playing field. She explains: “Black kids who score well do so against greater odds than what White students have to face,” she says. “There’s been this idea in the press that Black kids have equal opportunities, don’t measure up, and still want extra opportunities in the form of affirmative action. But Black kids are achieving against the odds.”
  • all high performers, Black and White, take rigorous courses. Most take calculus, and even more take honors English.
  • although the vast majority of Blacks with high test scores attend public school they represent only 4 percent of the African American males and 3 percent of African American females attending public schools.
  • there is a correlation between attending private and Catholic school and scoring high on the SAT. In private school, 16 percent of African American boys and 21 percent of the girls score 1200 or more. In Catholic school, 7 percent of male Blacks and 4 percent of female Blacks achieve these scores.
    Part of the reason offered by the study for that discrepancy [between public schools on the one hand and Catholic and private schools on the other] is that Catholic and private schools tend to require all students to take a rigorous college-preparatory curriculum, while many public schools do not.
  • Blacks with high scores work fewer part-time jobs than Whites with high scores, and generally participate less in extracurricular activities — with the exception of what the study calls “intellectually stimulating” activities such as honor society, computer clubs, and instrumental music classes. Lower scoring Black students spent more time working and participating in junior ROTC.
  • high-scoring African American students — particularly girls — have very high aspirations for their education. For example, 32 percent of Black girls who score above 1300 on the SAT say they will aim for a Ph.D., compared to only about one-fifth of African American boys and White students.
  • African Americans with high scores also apply to slightly more competitive schools than their White counterparts, but keep to a fairly narrow range of schools. Only about sixty universities received the SAT scores of one hundred or more African American students with high scores. For the male African American with high scores, of the most popular schools, twenty-two were private schools, seventeen public universities, six were Ivy League, and five were historically Black colleges and universities. For females, the top schools included twenty-six private universities, thirteen public universities, six Ivy League schools, and five historically Black colleges and universities.

Posted by Ajuan Mance


Posted in African American Students, African Americans, Black Students, Higher Education, race, SAT

2 Responses

  1. Mark

    This is very useful. The study is a bit dated, but the findings definitely endure.

  2. Dan Rosenfield

    Interestingly, for many years African-Americans have scored higher than other groups in wanting to make new friends from different backgrounds at colleges. I wish all students were more interested in doing so.

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