Age Bias on SAT and ACT

Malcom Gladwell made famous an argument that hockey players born in the months of January, February, or March are more likely to make NHL rosters than those born in the months of October, November, or December.

Remember one of Malcolm Gladwell’s arguments in Outliers: The Story of Success that concerned hockey players? Up and down rosters, NHL players are much more likely to have been more in the months of January, February, or March than in October, November, or December? And remember why? In short, these folks were always bigger among their peers because they were older. Because they were bigger, they were told they were great and that positive reinforcement led them to become first-rate hockey players. Well, taking a page from Gladwell’s well-documented argument, a professor within the University of Chicago’s famed economics department is now making the case that standardized testing — including the SAT and ACT — has an age bias. Older students, up until the age of 18, perform better. The professor wants to put a stop to this alleged discrimination.

As Scott Jaschik reports for Inside Higher Ed in a piece entitled “Do ACT and SAT Favor Older Students?,” “The critic is Pablo A. Peña, an assistant instructional professor in the Kenneth C. Griffin Department of Economics at the University of Chicago. He makes his case in an article out today in Education Next, which is published by the program on education policy and governance at Harvard University’s Kennedy School. The article, ‘End the Birthday Bias,’ reviews evidence from a variety of settings in the United States and Britain about the uses of standardized tests in elementary and secondary schools and in college admissions. ‘Older children typically perform better on academic achievement tests than younger students in the same classes,’ Peña writes. ‘Time and again, studies looking at an array of countries, grade spans, and subjects have found that age differences of even a few months do matter.’ When he says ‘older’ children, he’s talking about months, not years, making a difference.”

So, yes, apparently test-takers, including SAT and ACT test-takers, are no different than hockey players. Older test-takers, like older hockey players, tend to perform better than their younger counterparts born in their same year. But what will The College Board, the maker of the SAT and ACT, Inc., the maker of the ACT, do about this study’s findings? Our guess? Zilch.

 
 

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