Some Say New SAT Promotes Gender Stereotypes
Posted by Erica Molfetto in University
This post was written by our friends at teenvogue.com
The whole process of applying to colleges and taking exams is stressful for just about every high school student — but, it seems, it’s about to get even worse for girls.
Earlier this year, The College Board rolled out its revamped version of the SAT, and after taking the test themselves, several experts uncovered a gender bias against girls. Tutors and college-prep experts called out The College Board for two concerning questions in particular. A question in the math section included a chart that showed more boys than girls in math classes, and a question in the verbal section presented an essay from the 1800s that argued “women have a lower station than men,” and that their proper places are in the home. The essay, by Catherine E. Beecher, was presented alongside a reply that was written the following year by Angelina E. Grimké, which argued no one should be limited by his or her gender. Test takers were asked questions on how to interpret the essays, according to the New York Times.
Despite the fact that Grimké’s essay was presented as a counter to Beecher’s sexist view, some believe the presence of Beecher’s piece is enough to distract female students and trip them up not only on that question (which is at the beginning of the test), but also on the rest of the SAT. “I thought, ‘Wait a minute: This test is really trying women in a way that’s slightly different than it’s testing men,’” Sheila Akbar, the education director for test-prep company Signet Education, told the New York Times. “Here I am, a seasoned test taker, a 36-year-old woman, being distracted by this material. I wonder what 17-year-olds are thinking.”
Sure enough, Cynthia Cowan, a tutor in Boston, said a male student she worked with was so surprised by Beecher’s gender bias, that he assumed he misinterpreted the essay completely. “This is a good student who read the piece right and convinced himself that he had read it wrong,” she told the Times. “If it has that strange effect on a guy, who knows what effect it can have on women?”
Not a great one. Joshua Aronson, an associate professor of applied psychology at New York University, who has led research on stereotypes in testing since the 1990s, said that the inclusion and placement of both the math and verbal question in the SAT is the perfect example of “stereotype threat”, meaning that girls taking the test will be reminded of common negative stereotypes against them — like that they aren’t as smart as boys, or they shouldn’t even be building careers — and perform poorly because of that reminder and the anxiety that comes with it. “You could imagine one girl really ruminating on it, and she would pay for it down the road,” he told the Times.
For their part, The College Board, which already came under fire for other aspects of the re-designed test (like the fact that it’s very word-heavy), said they actually took great pains to ensure the new SAT is free of stereotypes and fairer than previous versions. And, they pre-tested the material on a sample of male and female students, finding no significant score differences between the genders on the two pieces in question. “This means the questions did not present an unfair advantage to either group,” Kate Welk, the director of assessment communications for The College Board, told The Times.
Whether or not that is true, though, many believe that it’s just wholly unnecessary to have these potentially sexist or damaging questions on the test to begin with. In a time when we’re all learning so much about gender stereotypes — including the importance of shutting them down — it's certainly something to think about. But we're also confident that the badass girls taking this test will be focused enough to just dust their shoulders off at the slights.
June 28, 2016, Erica Molfetto