Freddie deBoer’s Inflammatory Rhetoric on the SAT

Abe Gaustad
3 min readMay 17, 2021

In an article on the recent trend for colleges to stop requiring the SAT for admissions, Freddie deBoer argues for the value of the test in measuring academic ability. I agree with deBoer that the SAT has value, although its reputation among the right as an objective measure of “academic merit” is both simplistic and wrong-headed. For his own part, deBoer criticizes the view of the left, arguing that standardized tests “reveal profound differences in human capital that make progressives uncomfortable.”

But deBoer is no Steve Sailer. To his credit, he dismisses the arguments for a genetic cause to the racial gap in SAT scores between races:

…the gap is the product of innumerable environmental and sociocultural factors rather than genetics or other inherent differences.

This is, of course, the dominant progressive view. deBoer’s main criticism of the left is that it doesn't want to talk about the score gap at all — even though he cites both Barack Obama and Kamala Harris on the issue. But much of the left’s reluctance to discuss the issue is the way it has been misused by racists and nationalists to imply that inequalities between races are innate and immutable. For progressives, the gap is simply a symptom of racial and social inequality — and there are other metrics that illustrate that concept without the baggage.

What’s odd — and, ultimately, disingenuous — about deBoer’s take on the racial differences revealed by the SAT is that he frames any attempt to alter admissions requirements as an attack on white students:

Of course, if eliminating entrance examinations is an effort to improve the standing of Black students, it is necessarily also an effort to hurt the standing of students from certain other races.

This is a bizarre and inflammatory framing of the problem. What’s more, it doesn’t make sense when combined with what he’s just said about the origin of the achievement gap. After all, black students are victims of “environmental and sociological factors” beyond their control. By the same logic, one could argue that working to improve outcomes for African-Americans at lower grade levels “hurts” white students because, if successful, it would mean fewer white students at a particular university.

Undergirding deBoer’s view is a sincere belief that a student’s SAT score is an accurate measure of that student’s merit and that not admitting that student to his or her rightful place in the education hierarchy is an injustice. But what of the young African-American students who, through no fault of their own, are denied even a shot at college? What of the inequity of the educational system? The fact that the educational system has failed some students is no reason to abandon them, and certainly no reason to whip up resentment by implying that university officials are eager to “hurt” white students in their effort to help black ones:

In today’s political climate, hurting white kids to benefit Black is not a hard pull, politically, at least in academia.

The idea that college administrators are motivated by a desire to hurt white kids is, frankly, outrageous.

While it’s true that African-American retention rates are lower than those of white students, there’s no reason to assume that this outcome is permanent. With a bit of effort and a few targeted programs, I have little doubt that black students can overcome the achievement gaps, but not if we’re beholden to metrics that only reveal a part of the story.