As the country continues to deal with its largest-ever scandal in college admissions, it’s become clear that donating a campus building is one (legal) way to use family funds to get a child a seat in a selective colleges. But wealth is also a ticket to summer camps and enrichment programs, expensive after-school activities and sports, and of course, SAT test prep courses and private college counselors to shore up transcripts and resumes.
State data reviewed by WGBH News indicate wealth often has a significant impact on that first crucial step toward getting high schoolers into college: the SAT exam. In many cases, districts with wealthier students see juniors and seniors taking the SAT at higher rates than districts with more economically disadvantaged students.
Holyoke, where 77.5 percent of its students are economically disadvantaged, had only 154 students take the SAT last year, out of 691 juniors and seniors.
Meanwhile, Norwell, where only 4 percent of the district's students are economically disadvantaged, saw more than 70 percent of juniors and seniors take the college entrance exam.
Some schools buck the trend, but out of the 20 districts with the most economically disadvantaged students, only one district had more than 55 percent of its juniors and seniors take the SAT.
To explore the data below, roll your mouse over the triangles in the chart. Each triangle represents a district, and the colors correspond to reading/writing scores on the SAT. Blue represents higher scores and red represents lower scores.
Districts further to the right in the chart have a higher percentage of students who are economically disadvantaged. The higher a district is in the chart, the more of its students took the SAT. Springfield, for example, is located in the upper-righthand quadrant of the chart and has nearly 80 percent economically disadvantaged students, but more than 70 percent SAT participation.
Note: The data are from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education. Comparable statistics on the ACT, another entrance exam, are not available. Percentage SAT Participation is calculated using the total enrollment count for 11th and 12th graders in each district.
Our coverage of K-12 education is made possible with support from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation.