Asian Americans SAT Stars?

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Model Minority alert! The Hong Kong Standard proclaimed that Asian Americans are “stars” in math. The Wall Street Journal stated “Asian-Americans continue to post stellar results. … 66 points better than the [math] average. Asian-Americans also outperformed in critical-reading and writing, though by less.” Asians were the only group to improve their writing scores.

The College Board, which runs the SAT admissions test, recently announced that that minority participation was up to 40 percent from 33 percent a decade ago. Asian Americans increased to 61 percent, mostly due to waves of immigration. But it’s been overlooked that African Americans also grew by 52 percent, and they’ve about reached population parity with about 12 percent of test takers, though Hispanics remain underrepresented. That’s real academic progress, which happened during the G.W. Bush years, compared to the days when most blacks didn’t even start high school.

The College Board’s Total Group Report 2008 shows Asian men are tops in math with an average score of 596. But at 567, do Asian women need math affirmative action when they outscored white men at 555? Native Americans led various Hispanic groups, with African Americans scoring lowest at 426 as a group. If you lag behind more educated whites, it’s a crisis. Yet it’s Asians who get kudos instead of scolding non-overachievers; whites lag behind Asian kids by one-third of the black-Asian gap.

Though Asians lag in reading, combined verbal and math scores for Asians passed whites sometime in the 1990s. On the new writing test, Asians do just fine, nearly equal to whites, while women overall get a 13 point advantage. But the total for African Americans is dragged down by another 94 points. Averages, however, hide Asian failure. In 1995, a detailed breakdown showed that Asians were not just six times more likely to get the highest scores, they were just as likely to be bunched up at the bottom with miserable verbal and math scores as well.

Taking language courses or a subject test (notably in Chinese, Korean, Latin or Hebrew) also helps math scores. Spanish, less so. Taking four years of music had an even better effect than computer programming courses. Some of the lowest math scores were from students who intended to major in agriculture, construction, public administration and social services.

An analysis I did in 1995 showed that children of African American parents earning over $70,000 scored lower than whites earning less than $10,000. Children of Asians earning $40,000 matched the most affluent whites. This explains why even the poorest urban Asians generally score as well as whites, while even the most affluent black suburbs complain about low test scores. The truth is between economics and culture, you’re better off with Asian parents who get crazy at a B+ than being rich.

Sadly, continuing education policies based on creating task forces to erase “unexplained” gaps and enforce political correctness instead of mastering academic content will only keep Asians even farther in the lead.

About the Author

MIT electrical engineering computer science graduate has written conservative columns on politics, race / culture, science and education since the 70s in MIT The Tech and various publications in including New Republic and National Review.