A 30 point difference in SAT math test scores favoring males over females has persisted for more than 50 years according to the American Enterprise Institute.
This fact, coupled with a controversy surrounding math and English questions thought to reward stereotype threat, have raised suspicions about the SAT having a gender bias.
“Stereotype threat is being at risk of confirming, as self-characteristic, a negative stereotype about one’s group,” Claude M. Steele and Joshua Aronson said in their 1995 research paper which was the first time the term “stereotype threat” was used to describe this phenomenon.
A 1999 study by Steele, Steven J. Spencer and Diane M. Quinn examined how statements about the negative, social pigeonholes people get placed in affect the outcomes of their tests.
Two questions from last year’s May 7 SAT stood out to tutors reviewing the test. One of them included part of an essay by Catharine E. Beecher from 1837 on how women are of a lesser status than man.
“Heaven has appointed to one sex the superior,” Beecher said. “And to the other the subordinate station.”
The other question was in the math section and involved statistics detailing how more males were in math classes than females. Tutors claimed that because these two questions were placed at the beginning of the test, the negative effects of stereotype threat would linger in the test-takers’ minds.
No action has been taken by the College Board as their reviewers found no gender biased questions when looking over the test and assured critics that it provided equal opportunities for success.
An article in the “National Review,” criticized the complaints of these tutors, saying that the idea that females score lower because of stereotype threat marginalizes their emotional strength.
Sheila Akbar, the education director for the test-prep company Signet Education, said the questions distracted her during a trial-run of the new SAT.
““I thought, ‘Wait a minute: This test is really trying women in a way that’s slightly different than it’s testing men,’” Akbar said in a “New York Times” article on stereotype threat from the SAT.
However, other sections of standardized tests and other factors affecting stereotype threat could influence differences in scores between genders.
A 2016 research report by Kay Chubbuck, W. Edward Curley and Teresa C. King found that sports and science materials on skills tests should have no biases among genders.
In the study by Steele, Spencer and Quinn, mediators such as anxiety, self-efficacy and evaluation apprehension are examined for their additional effects on stereotype threat—an indicator that there may be multiple ways to explain the evident differences in test scores seen in the SAT.