Research Confirms Harmful Impact of SAT Gender Bias

University Testing

Overlooked in the reaction to the sharp falloff in minority enrollment at California public universities resulting from that state's repeal of affirmative action (see Examiner, Spring 1998) is its likely negative impact on the educational opportunities for young women. Increasing the admissions formula weight given to exams such as the SAT, which under-predicts the ability of females to do college level work, should create new barriers to gender equity since females score lower than their male counterparts in every racial and ethnic group.


The issue will surface, however, with the forthcoming publication of "Gender Bias and the College Predictions of the SATs: A Cry of Despair," a research study which concludes that an even more modest use of test scores in the late 1980s cost between 200 and 300 females admission to the University of California at Berkeley each year. Written by the former chair of Berkeley's faculty committee on admissions, David Leonard, and statistician Jiming Jiang, the paper projects that SAT under-prediction "arguably leads to the exclusion of 12,000 women from large, competitive, 'flagship' state universities" annually and shows that "significant under-prediction of women's college grades remains after one has taken out the effects of choice of program of study and that it exists across the range of scores in which highly competitive colleges and universities actually make their cut-off decisions."


The study is an expansion of a paper delivered at the 1995 American Educational Research Association national conference (see Examiner, Summer 1995). It is based on the academic per-formance of all 10,000 students admitted to Berkeley between 1986 and 1988, and includes a strong literature review. Along with the recent publications of their Berkeley colleagues Cathy Kessel and Marcia Linn (see Examiner, Winter 1996-97), the forthcoming article represents the state-of-the art of gender bias scholarship.


Leonard and Jiang devote the final sections of their paper to a stern criticism of the Educational Testing Service and particularly the College Board for down-playing the existence and implications of gender bias. They conclude: "The financial welfare, academic opportunities, and sense of self-worth of female students are being damaged by the SATs as they are currently designed and used. It is urgent that, after a quarter century of delay, the College Board either corrects the gender problem its own studies have documented or provides all institutions employing its tests an unambiguous, highly visible 'user's warning label' that their appropriate use requires some kind of gender-sensitive corrective."


"Gender Bias and the College Predictions of the SATs: A Cry of Despair" has been accepted for publication in Research in Higher Education, 40, 3 (June 1999).