Gaps in Test Scores between Race and Class Groups Have Narrowed

By Lang, Susan S. | Human Ecology Forum, Winter 1998 | Go to article overview

Gaps in Test Scores between Race and Class Groups Have Narrowed


Lang, Susan S., Human Ecology Forum


Intelligence test scores of whites compared with African Americans, and of the members of high compared with low socioeconomic groups, are not growing ever wider. This is contrary to often-reported arguments that Americans are getting dumber because low-IQ parents are outbreeding high-IQ parents. Rather, upon closer look these scores point to a growing convergence, report developmental psychologists Stephen J. Ceci and Wendy M. Williams, both in the Department of Human Development.

In comprehensive analyses of national data sets of mental test scores (including tests containing verbal analogies, vocabulary, mathematics, science, writing, and spatial reasoning) for American students, Williams and Ceci write in the November 1997 issue of the American Psychologist that "there is no compelling evidence supporting the hypothesis that a dysgenic (negative hereditary) trend is at work, undermining Americans' intellectual capital." Williams is an associate professor of human development, and Ceci is the Helen L. Carr Professor of Developmental Psychology.

Such dysgenic trends received wide publicity in 1994 with the publication of The Bell Curve by R. J. Herrnstein and C. Murray, which argued that demographic pressures were exerting such strong downward influence on cognitive ability in this country that dire negative social consequences would ensue.

Williams and Ceci, however, reexamined the data and looked at a broader base of tests that reflect cognitive ability; they focused on batteries of mental tests that are statistically comparable to IQ tests as well as on IQ tests themselves. Their findings do not support suggestions put forth in The Bell Curve. Specifically, they report:

* Racial differences in intelligence narrowed by about half between 1970 and 1988 and have since remained fairly constant.

* Socioeconomic class differences between the upper and lower thirds have continued to decline gradually since 1932. IQ scores between these two groups have, in fact, converged about 25 percent in the past 50 years or so.

* PSATs (Preliminary Scholastic Assessment Tests), which are given to representative samples of high school juniors (as opposed to the self-selected high school seniors who take the SATs) reflect relatively stable score differences between the top and bottom quarters since 1961.

"It's true that SAT scores have declined rather precipitously in recent years," Williams concedes. …

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