Aptitude tests still favour rich

September 23, 2005

American-style admissions tests may be no fairer a way for British universities to "talent-spot" students than looking at A-level results, according to a new study, writes Paul Hill.

A paper in the Higher Education Quarterly warns that the results of SATs in the US vary in line with students' social and ethnic background, rather than serving as an objective test of intelligence and potential.

The findings raise questions about this week's announcement that all UK schools and colleges will be invited to take part in a five-year trial of the SAT, starting in November.

The £1.6 million trial - backed by the Government, the Sutton Trust and the College Board, which owns the SAT - could see as many as 50,000 A-level students taking part each year. It will be carried out by the National Foundation for Economic Research.

But in their research paper, Anne West, director of the Centre for Educational Research at the London School of Economics, and Rebecca Gibbs, formerly a research assistant at the centre, argue that the SAT would not be any more equitable than the current use of public examinations in England and Wales.

According to the paper, evidence from the US suggests that students from homes where the income is lower achieve, on average, lower scores than their peers from wealthier homes. Similarly, "average student scores also vary according to race/ethnicity".

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