A Comparison of the School Experiences of Low-Scoring and High-Scoring African American SAT Test Takers Open Access
Downloadable ContentDownload PDF
This study sought to explore the school experiences of high-scoring and low-scoring SAT test takers in order to understand how their school experiences shaped their achievement on the SAT. Given the persistent SAT achievement gap between African Americans and Whites, the researcher approached this investigation from a Critical Race Theory theoretical perspective in order to determine how race and racism may have influenced the school experiences of the participants. Using a phenomenological methodology and a constructivist epistemology, in-depth, semi-structured interviews were conducted with African American students who scored high on the SAT Writing subtest (those whose Writing subtest score was one standard deviation or more above the total group mean Writing score in the year in which the test was taken) and African American students who have scored low (those Writing subtest score was one standard deviation or more below the total group mean Writing score in the year in which the test was taken). The investigation was guided by the central question, What are the implications of the school experiences of African American students on their performance on the SAT? The following sub-questions also guided the research: 1) How do high and low-scoring African American SAT test takers describe their high school experiences? 2) How do high and low-scoring African American SAT test takers make meaning of their high school experiences? 3) In what ways do the experiences of high and low-scoring African American SAT test takers converge and diverge? The findings suggest that for both low-scoring and high-scoring African Americans, their academic program, teachers’ expectations and school culture and climate were salient in their school experiences and impacted their performance on the SAT. It was observed that the high school experiences of the two groups differed significantly. The high-scoring group attended schools where the school culture was consistently focused on academic achievement and preparing students for college. The low-scoring group attended schools where the culture was at times focused on managing student behavior or preparing students for state standardized tests. Learning was more focused on completing assignments or learning particular skills in order to achieve short-term goals.