Phi Beta Cons

A Response to Mismatch

Over at SCOTUSBlog. Most of it is the “dueling studies” kind of thing you expect to see whenever complex statistical work is at issue, but I did find this argument rather bizarre:

Comparisons of mean SAT scores are again misleading, because test score gaps are not a proxy for the extent to which race is considered in admissions.  From 2005 until 2009, for UT-Austin freshmen outside the Top Ten Percent Plan, the black-white difference in mean SAT scores was 210 points (on the 1600 point scale).  But over the same span the size of black-white gaps in SAT scores is even larger at Sander’s home institution of UCLA (224 points) and at UC Berkeley (254 points), and that is after African-American enrollments had already plunged when affirmative action was prohibited. At selective universities and colleges, virtually any race-blind admissions system will yield racial/ethnic SAT score gaps similar to those highlighted by Sander and Taylor, because these gaps reflect the underlying distribution of test scores in the different ethnic populations.  Any racially neutral measure of merit, apart from the test scores themselves, will reproduce these population differences.

. . . except that “test scores themselves” are in fact one of schools’ biggest “racially neutral measure[s] of merit.” Because test scores aren’t the only factor considered besides race, test-score gaps don’t track racial preferences perfectly, but it strikes me as patently silly to assert that they’re not even a proxy. If two schools are basically comparable, but school A has a greater black-white gap in test scores than school B, it means that school A places higher weight on non-test-score factors that are less favorable to blacks. This need not be race itself, but given that schools do consider race, it seems like a reasonable place to start.

Further, given colleges’ known penchant for ignoring laws that ban affirmative action, I’m not sure what the citation of gaps at specific schools operating under various such laws is supposed to prove.


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